Eugene, Ore. (March 30th, 2021) — Communities hit hard by the Holiday Farm Fire will be getting a boost, thanks to a $300,000 OVERCOME grant from US Ignite, the National Science Foundation, and Schmidt Futures. The purpose of the OVERCOME grant is to support underserved communities in the deployment of novel broadband technology solutions.

“Rural communities continue to see a lack of internet services, critical not only for basic daily tasks but also for emergency preparedness and recovery,” said Lane County Commissioner, Heather Buch. “The OVERCOME grant provides an opportunity for consistent, reliable internet for the McKenzie area as they recover from the devastating Holiday Farm Fire. I thank US Ignite, the National Science foundation, and Schmidt Futures for this grant and Onward Eugene for their forward thinking internet solutions for the region.”

The grant will fund the development of a new permanent wireless Internet backbone into the McKenzie Valley area. The backbone will be utilized in support of two exciting new projects, including a more resilient internet connection to the McKenzie School.

“McKenzie School District struggles with connectivity and has for decades,” said Lane Tompkins, McKenzie School District Superintendent. “The Holiday Fire only made things worse. We lost all of our connectivity for months. With the needs for reliable internet access amplified during this global pandemic, this grant will change the lives of our students, residents and business owners.”

National Press Announcement of the Seven US Ignite Project OVERCOME grant winners.

Onward Eugene and the McKenzie School District have also teamed up with Elevate Technology Group to construct and pilot a new Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) in the area. To take advantage of the new high speed wireless network service, a hundred wifi hotspot devices will be given to local students and households in the burn area of Blue River.

“The innovative solution we are deploying is a good mix of wired and wireless technologies that build on the lessons learned from the pandemic and recent wildfires, said Geoff Turner, CEO at Elevate Technology Group. “We will be utilizing the newly released CBRS wireless spectrum, which should translate to fast internet speeds in support of the effort to rebuild the community and the economy.”

Onward Eugene’s grant proposal is titled “Building Internet resilience from the ashes of the Holiday Farm Fire”. It was one of just seven proposals chosen nationally and the only winner in the western United States. 

“Affordable high speed internet is the modern day gatekeeper to health care, education, and employment,” said Tina Guldberg, Senior Director of Industry Partnerships at the University of Oregon and Onward Eugene Board Chair. “Onward’s hope is that this project will help remove barriers to economic prosperity for the region and in doing so, develop innovations that can be replicated by other communities around the country.”

Grant funded efforts will kick off April 1st, with construction scheduled to begin in May. Grant partners plan to begin Internet service delivery to both the school and surrounding community in the fall of 2021.