Eugene was recently named a recipient for a Mozilla and National Science Foundation Gigabit Community Fund award. The funding will allow education and workforce development ideas that require next-generation technologies to take advantage of the “Emerald City’s” new gigabit infrastructure.
Green Means Go
Last summer, the City Council voted to make a downtown fiber-optic infrastructure pilot project eligible for Urban Renewal funds. The approval allowed the Eugene Water and Electric Board (EWEB) the ability to expand the project to bring Gigabit per second (1,000 Megabits) capacity to more businesses in the city's downtown.
Based on the success of the pilot and the new funding source, the city solidified plans to take the publicly owned network even further last fall. The city has approved up to $3 million to expand the open access network and connect to approximately 120 downtown buildings.
On March 21st, the city and EWEB is holding a Fiber Launch Celebration downtown. They’ll hold a Fiber Lighting Ceremony and demonstrate 10 Gbps Internet speeds from XS Media, one of the first ISPs planning to offer services via the new infrastructure. Tickets to the event will benefit the Springfield Education Foundation and Looking Glass Community Services. From the event announcement:
"More and more businesses and jobs depend on high-speed internet, just as much as they depend on other basic infrastructure," says Mel Damewood, EWEB's chief engineering and operations officer. "This innovative 'open-access' model of public ownership partnered with private ISPs offers service in a cost-competitive environment, and that helps to support our growing tech sector and a vibrant downtown."
EWEB’s deployment is part of a regional effort called EUGNet that includes a number of public agencies from Portland to San Jose. Locally, the Springfield Utility Board and the Lane Council of Governments also include their fiber resources in the 1,200-mile collaborative network. There are currently five private sector providers offering some form of services over EUGNet to businesses, public entities, or residents in areas along the extensive EUGNet footprint. As the downtown Eugene network grows, so will opportunities for more private ISPs to deliver services to local businesses.
Prices Too High, Capacity Too Low
For downtown businesses, connectivity costs from incumbent cable providers are just too high. The region has attracted tech entrepreneurs in recent years and the only way to keep the trend going is to offer better connectivity. City leaders want to drive that economic development by encouraging competition as a way to lower the prices of that essential service for local firms - high-quality Internet access.
Along with high rates, businesses complain about low capacity that stifles growth. Many commercial connections in downtown Eugene max out at 150 Mbps download and slower upload speeds, which are vastly inadequate for the new businesses finding a home in Eugene. Anne Fifield, a city economic development planner told the Register Guard last fall:
“The 21st century is here, and this is something we want to pursue very much…Limited telecommunications infrastructure in Eugene and a lack of competition is leading to lower service levels and higher prices than we see in larger markets.”
Lunar Logic, a downtown Eugene digital Marketing firm, pays $1,200 - $1,500 per month to maintain two Internet connections. They need to be online constantly because they design and maintain client websites. Rather than risk losing a connection due to reliability issues, they feel it’s important to pay for double coverage from the cable incumbent provider.
While ISPs that choose to offer services over the city network will be able to set their own rates, XS Media is now offering gigabit access for $99 per month in the pilot area. Lunar Logic isn’t in the pilot area, but CEO Celeste Edman would welcome fast, affordable, reliable service:
She calls the prospect of faster speeds for $99 a month a game changer for Lunar Logic.
“This number of $99 a month, even if it was $200 a month, the amount of money that saves me in a year is huge,” Edman said. “That could mean more hiring, that could mean updating my own space, providing more benefits to employees, it could mean more charitable giving to the community. It means a lot of things. Just the financial savings alone is huge.”
Palo Alto Software is in the pilot area and switched from Comcast to the new utility. According to CEO Sabrina Parsons, the service is more consistent, affordable, faster, and, “We don’t have to depend on just Comcast.”
From Silicon Bayou to Silicon Shire
Back in 2014, Lafayette earned the nickname “Silicon Bayou” when several tech companies sprung up in the community to take advantage of it’s publicly owned gigabit network. Those new businesses had been the latest in a string of new and retained jobs that depend on high-quality connectivity. Eugene wants to be known as the “Silicon Shire” and an initiative of 400 regional technology companies has claimed the brand. The community’s investment in better connectivity and the Mozilla/NSF Gigabit Community Fund reinforce their efforts.
Continue, a cloud hosting company with servers in three buildings located in Eugene, uses the publicly owned network for connectivity in one of its buildings that is located in the pilot area. He told the Register Guard that, in addition to increasing speeds by a factor of ten, his Internet access costs for that facility were reduced by 2/3rds.
“I’m usually of the opinion the government should keep its hands off and let the private sector fix it in its own way,” Wright said. But the new city-owned fiber network is “going to really help propel the concept of the Silicon Shire, and hopefully bring in more talent to this area.”