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Downtown Fiber Project Connects Our Community’s Past With Our Future

March 23, 2017

EWEB staff hold a glowing strand of fiber optic cable at the Fiber Lighting Ceremony

In the late 1950s, Elvis Presley appeared on the Ed Sullivan show for the first time, Dwight D. Eisenhower was re-elected president, and EWEB crews laid the groundwork for Eugene's world-class gigabit internet.

At a time when color television was the hot new technology, "streaming media" wasn't even a concept yet and a "bit" was half the cost for a shave and a haircut. Back then, EWEB was investing in a modernization project to move downtown Eugene's electric distribution system underground. Crews installed conduit beneath the city streets to house electrical wiring, and with a characteristic eye toward the future, included an extra conduit marked, "communication."

historic black and white photo of construction crews working in downtown Eugene

Today, that conduit is being used to connect downtown businesses to world-class, affordable high-speed internet. The 10-gigabit internet service is the largest publicly-owned, open-access fiber optic network in Oregon.

With funding from the City of Eugene, and support from Lane Council of Governments (LCOG) and the Technology Association of Oregon (TAO), EWEB in 2016 installed high speed fiber from the Willamette Internet Exchange (WIX) to five downtown buildings via our underground electric conduits. Using existing infrastructure—installed by those EWEB crews more than 60 years ago—saved millions of dollars in construction costs by not having to tear up the streets for new utility trenches.

EWEB crews install fiber optic cable in existing conduit.

At a ceremony in Eugene's first high-rise, the Miner Building, EWEB General Manager Frank Lawson and Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis on Tuesday, March 21 connected two halves of a fiber optic cable, illuminating the cable and officially kicking off a construction project that will make the network available to businesses in 120 buildings downtown.

The fiber network will be constructed by EWEB, the city and LCOG, and will be owned by the public. Private Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will lease the fiber strands from EWEB and then provide services to individual businesses.

This unique 'open-access' model of public ownership partnered with private ISPs helped Eugene earlier this month earn the title of Gigabit City by the nonprofit Mozilla Foundation. Eugene joins Austin, Kansas City, and Chattanooga in this prestigious distinction. In addition to the national recognition, the honor comes with $150,000 of grant funding for local initiatives that increase participation in technology innovation.

EWEB staff Nick and Mel (Engineering & Operations) hold a glowing fiber optic cable

"As a citizen-owned utility, EWEB has a long history of investing in the community," says Frank Lawson. "Sixty years ago, EWEB planners installed infrastructure that would eventually enable technology those early planners hadn't even dreamed of. The fiber project is great reminder that decisions we make today will affect our community for generations to come."

Technology has changed drastically since those crews placed an empty "communications" conduit beneath the city streets. But EWEB still operates with an eye to the future. Today, other modernization projects like our new drinking water filtration plant on the Willamette River will benefit Eugene residents for decades into the future. The new plant, expected to come on-line in 2022, will be built to current seismic standards to increase our community's resilience during emergencies.

Construction on downtown Eugene's high-speed fiber internet will begin later this year. For more information on the service area and how to sign-up, visit the City of Eugene website.