Eugene: Mozilla Gigabit City & Beyond

Participants at the Eugene Mozilla Gigabit City Inaugural Info Session

It has been a year since Eugene, Oregon was named a “Mozilla Gigabit City”.

Once I obtained the title of “Gigabit Community Fund Portfolio Manager”, and began the 3,000 mile journey in my trusty ol’ Subaru Outback from Washington D.C., it was time to get to work. I was a Duck flying back to make lasting community change.

I was overjoyed, optimistic, and a bit intimidated when more than 200 people showed up to my initial event — advertising the grants to the community, being treated to a speech from the Vice President for Research & Innovation from the University of Oregon, as well as showcasing some of the potential uses of the technology we were all going to create together in Eugene.

Despite some initial trepidation, the floodgates of possibility opened once diverse groups of community members starting pouring into that event, getting engaged, staying engaged, and holding community conversations to discuss their creative ideations. Every day I get to wake up and help support community innovators attempting to utilize Eugene’s fiber network ( EugNet) for social benefit. I have been given amazing creative freedom from Mozilla, and have made good use of it with the mindset, “the beauty of innovation is that you don’t know what is possible until you try”.

Sometimes, this risk-taking results in massive success. Sometimes it results in absolute failure. One year and $193,000 in small grants ($12k-28k) later — and I can safely say that our local innovators, educators, entrepreneurs, technologists, and community supporters have made these 11 “pilot” projects a resounding success. Were there bumps along the way to innovation? You betcha. Unreliable rural broadband in under-served areas, unpredictable purchases thinning out budgets, partners backing out or providing poor communication, and lack of local resources in niche technical areas (4K streaming!) were all roadblocks that forced our grantees to pivot and adapt.

But, adapt they did. They always found ways to overcome these shortfalls and turn them into assets. Lane Arts Council had a partner school back out last-minute — so they found a replacement. Redefining Women in Tech couldn’t find the perfect platform for interactive live-streamed co-located distance learning events — so they stitched together several local partners. Though these trial and errors were exhausting and stressful at the time — they resulted in community successes. We now have a much more robust and ever-expanding network of folks who are skilled in using hardware to provide interactive distance-learning experiences. It also helped expose some of our needs in terms of skills and infrastructure.

The number one quote I’ve received since starting this work was, “regardless of the decision, whether we get the grant funding or not, the connections we have been able to make through this process have been priceless.” Coming into this work, I wanted to do more than simply hand out money and wipe my hands of responsibility. We have been able to integrate our work with local startups, nonprofits, accelerators & incubators, annual events, coffee get-togethers, professional development trainings, and workforce development programming like Elevate Lane County, Eugene Chamber industry tours & TAO’s Experience Oregon Tech, Northwest Arts Integration Conference, BarCamp Eugene, Lane Workforce Partnership sector strategy meetings, and much much more.

“Regardless of the decision, whether we get the grant funding or not, the connections we have been able to make through this process have been priceless.”
City of Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis & City of Springfield Mayor Christine Lundberg

Community Collaboration

Despite being a staff of one locally, this has by no means been a solitary effort. We wouldn’t even have gotten here without a strong application and advocacy from diverse stakeholders within the Eugene community. “You guys had 15 to 20 people show up talking about your community and what a wonderful network of people you have already thinking about the issues that Mozilla cares about,” said Lindsey Dodson, Director of the Gigabit Community Fund upon announcement of Eugene as a Mozilla Gigabit City.

These partnerships have not slowed down. I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the community leaders — executive directors, small business owners, CEOs, educators, public officials, students, artists, community development experts, and local leaders who helped make these impactful decisions along with me…(Read More)