EugNet installation

2019 Government Innovation Awards

Lightbulb moment: Fiber via electric conduit

Like many cities, Eugene, Ore., wanted to implement a fiber-optic network, but costs threatened to derail the plan — until officials had an idea: install the cables inside existing electric conduits.

That approach saved the city on installation costs and earned it the distinction of being the only community to have installed fiber this way, said Anne Fifield, economic strategies manager at the Planning and Development Department. Her team estimated that installing the network the traditional way would have cost over $8 million. Instead, the network was completed for less than $2 million, she said.

During a pilot test of EugNet, three revitalized buildings were connected and now have gigabit internet service for $100 a month. That’s in line with a project goal of attracting more telecommunications competition to support and grow the large software industry in the city, which sits between the technology hubs of Seattle and San Jose, Calif.

“We couldn’t offer competitive telecommunications service, and so we worked to build a publicly owned dark fiber infrastructure so that we would create that competitive landscape to attract more” internet service providers, Fifield said. “It’s definitely solved the problem. It turned out [that] competition works, and by having the dark fiber, which any ISP can lease and offer services to businesses, we’ve seen prices generally come down by about half, but speeds have increased by a factor of 10.”

The plan is to connect about 125 more buildings, which Fifield said could speed the downtown area’s comeback. Buildings there are at a higher occupancy level than they have been in years, she added.

“The point of innovating isn’t just to innovate for innovation’s sake,” Fifield said. “What’s the ultimate goal? The ultimate goal of this was to grow our local economy.”

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