Thin glass strands strung beneath downtown streets have turned Eugene into a world-class hub for businesses that depend on high-speed internet for their success.
EUGNet, as the downtown fiber project is called, has room to grow but already shown its worth. Now ... what about the rest of the community? Residents and businesses outside the downtown core must not be left behind, splitting Eugene into internet “haves” and “have nots.”
High-speed internet is not a luxury. Except for those rare individuals who live off the grid, broadband is as much of a necessity as electricity and telephones.
The Eugene City Council took a positive step last week by informally asking city staff to scope out the potential expansion of broadband throughout the city. How high-speed internet gets into each home – whether wireless or physical wire – and the cost are far from being determined. As city councilors noted, a host of policy decisions have yet to be made.
Those are challenges, not insurmountable obstacles.
Cities around the country have experienced mixed success in developing and operating municipal broadband. But the time appears ripe.
In Oregon, Hillsboro has committed to providing high-speed internet to all residences and businesses. Multnomah County is studying a regional internet service.
Maupin, in rural Wasco County, built a citywide fiber network through a series a public-private partnerships, including tying into the Bonneville Power Administration’s fiber network that connects its electrical substations. Maupin is a town of 430 residents, known for rafting and fly-fishing. Now that it has adequate internet service, shopkeepers no longer have to kick visitors off the internet in order to process credit card transactions.
That illustrates one necessity of high-speed internet for small businesses. But broadband also would let a corner store or café anywhere in Eugene offer both the friendliness of a mom-and-pop business and the convenience of online ordering. It would provide the proprietor with the savvy of automated restocking and the opportunity to stay ahead of business trends through online education, including many courses offered for free.
High-quality internet service is integral to anything related to training, whether high school homework, diabetes education, professional certifications and college degrees. Increasingly, it is how we connect with health providers. And it certainly is how we can interact socially and become a City of Kindness.
EUGNet exemplifies a public-private partnership, bringing together the city, Eugene Water and Electric Board, Technology Association of Oregon, Lane Council of Governments and private companies. The fiber network runs underground through EWEB’s electrical conduit, currently connecting the central exchange to 82 individual buildings. It is an open network. Private internet service providers lease fiber strands from EWEB, giving businesses have their choice among providers.
The results: Prices have dropped, speeds have soared and downtown vacancies have declined as more businesses have moved in to take advantage of the broadband connections.
Eugene as a city supposedly values equity. If true, every neighborhood, every resident and every business deserves equal access to high-speed internet.