Building Internet Resilience from the Ashes of the Holiday Farm Fire

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Digital Beat

Blue River, OregonBlue River, the hub of the McKenzie River Valley in rural Lane County, Oregon, is no stranger to natural disasters. In September 2020, this former mining and timber town burned to the ground in the Holiday Farm fire. However, despite the challenges, Blue River’s story is one of resilience. It’s the story of a town’s desire to not merely survive but thrive. Blue River is building back its internet infrastructure in a way that will make its community stronger, safer, and better connected than ever.

Onward Eugene, a 501(c)3 nonprofit with expertise in creating inclusive economic prosperity, believes that communities thrive when all members are valued and engaged in solving the challenges of tomorrow. These values are shared by the McKenzie School District and a cutting-edge private-sector technology company,  Elevate Technology Group, the local organizations behind Project OVERCOME. Their goal is to expand internet connectivity in the McKenzie River Valley and help revitalize the Blue River community.

The entire Blue River area has historically been served by a single fiber route that is attached to wood poles, connecting this rural community to the nearest city and the internet. This area fiber connection has proved to be vulnerable to outages during frequent natural disasters. Project OVERCOME is funding a resilient and permanent second internet backhaul route into the McKenzie Valley based on wireless microwave technology. This backhaul connection will be extended into the valley with the construction of a new solar-powered terrestrial communications tower. The new tower will also work as a point of distribution for a new education-focused cellular wireless network pilot. That pilot will use Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) technology to reach unserved and underserved populations for a fraction of the cost of typical broadband infrastructure “rebuild” projects. Project OVERCOME is one of the first to use CBRS in the state of Oregon. This infrastructure investment will make it easier for additional private-sector internet providers to service the region, creating market competition.

This OVERCOME project is shaped and supported by a half dozen key community partners. Community members are apprised of the project’s progress through traditional media and social media coverage, as well as via in-person milestone events. Moreover, the team launched a survey to identify households that would benefit most from Project OVERCOME.

The project is led by an exceptional team with representation from Onward Eugene, the McKenzie School District, and Elevate Technology Group. All of these partners have hands-on experience and perspectives on closing the digital divide.

The team has already identified a plan to expand the network in the fire-affected community. Onward Eugene is now actively fundraising for a fiber-to-the-home project and has already identified $155,000 of the necessary $200,000 needed for the expansion.

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US Ignite is accelerating the smart community movement – and creating value for an entire ecosystem – by guiding communities into the connected future, creating a path for private sector growth, and advancing technology research that’s at the heart of smart city development. Project OVERCOME is delivering broadband services to the underserved and unserved populations in seven communities. The project is led by US Ignite with financial support from the National Science Foundation and Schmidt Futures.

The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy – rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity – has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.


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Kevin Taglang

Kevin Taglang
Executive Editor, Communications-related Headlines
Benton Institute
for Broadband & Society
1041 Ridge Rd, Unit 214
Wilmette, IL 60091
847-328-3040
headlines AT benton DOT org

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