Wyden, Merkley: Onward Eugene Awarded $300,000 NSF Grant for Broadband

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley announced today that Onward Eugene will receive a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant for $300,000 to provide broadband to Oregonians in remote areas of the McKenzie Valley.

“Internet connections in 2021 are critical for rural communities to stay connected every day of the year,” Wyden said. “Resilient broadband is also critical in a disaster, whether that’s a global health pandemic forcing people to learn and work from home, or a wildfire that cuts off communication lines just when people need them most. Bottom line, communities in every nook and cranny need broadband infrastructure that is robust, resilient, and reaches everyone, which is why I’m so proud Onward Eugene secured this funding to get more Oregonians connected.”

“Between remote school and work, virtual doctor appointments, and accessing job bulletins and pertinent public health information online, the coronavirus crisis has made access to reliable broadband internet more important than ever,” said Merkley. “On top of that, the McKenzie Valley suffered massive losses from last year’s unprecedented wildfire. This funding will help us expand that access to some of the most remote corners of the McKenzie Valley, helping with much-needed recovery in the area. I’m going to keep working to secure similar investments for communities across our state, putting education, jobs, and health care within reach for more Oregonians.”

Onward Eugene plans to use the grant to build a resilient wireless link to rural McKenzie Valley combined with new fiber, a pilot CBRS education network, and new incentives to attract further private broadband investment.

The U.S. National Science Foundation has launched Project OVERCOME with US Ignite to oversee multiple efforts that combine innovative technical and community-engagement approaches to reach underserved and unserved populations. The $2.7 million public-private partnership investment includes $2.25 million in funding from NSF, with Schmidt Futures joining as a financial and strategic partner to extend Project OVERCOME’s geographic reach with an additional $450,000. The effort will support seven community deployments meant to uncover strategies for connecting underserved populations in ways that can be extended and replicated across the country.

Collectively, the seven projects will serve diverse communities reflecting a range of rural and urban environments, demographic characteristics, geographic regions, housing types, local and industry collaborations, and technical approaches. The project management teams are also interdisciplinary and diverse in gender and ethnicity, and they comprise community, industry, and academic partners.

“Of all the survivors of the Holiday Farm Fire that destroyed the small town of Blue River, Oregon, my greatest concern was for the students of the McKenzie School District. Already impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the fire was truly the last thing they needed,” said Lane County Commissioner Heather Buch. “The Project OVERCOME funding will re-connect the McKenzie School District’s students to one another, and to the education system that is imperative for their future livelihoods.  Natural disasters are simply becoming more common and often impact rural and underserved communities much harder.  I am  sure this project will serve to demonstrate technologies that can be deployed in the future, so that modern learning resources can be amongst the first services to return to those areas struggling in the aftermath of natural disasters.”

“Urban and rural communities alike need access to affordable broadband and the need is especially great in the unincorporated community of Blue River, Oregon that was devastated by the Holiday Farm Fire,” said Matt Sayre, Managing Director at Onward Eugene. “Together, we can build it back better and inspire others with innovative solutions to bridge the digital divide.”