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Blue River area residents get reliable internet

Matt Sayre
Onward Eugene
The 60-foot tower above Blue River brings reliable internet to the community. From left, McKenzie School Superintendent Lane Tompkins, Elevate Technology Group CEO Geoff Turner, Lane County Commissioner Heather Buch, and Matt Sayre, Director of Onward Eugene. The four hiked up to the tower at a place known as Death Ball. It's also the site of a wildfire detection camera administered by the University of Oregon.

This week, residents of Blue River got free Wi-Fi hotspots as part of a project to bring reliable high-speed internet to the community. Even before the devastating Holiday Farm Fire, the community’s connectivity was spotty.

Danica Barrick
WI-FI hotspots for distribution at an event Tuesday at the McKenzie Community School in Blue River.

A 60-foot-tall solar-powered telecommunications tower has been constructed above Blue River. It’s a more resilient infrastructure. Matt Sayre, with the non-profit Onward Eugene, said it provides a cellular network with internet service to the community.

“Internet matters,” he said. “It matters more than it ever has before as it relates to access to health care, access to loved one, and you know, it matters a lot in terms of access to education”

Sayre says even before the Holiday Farm Fire burned through the McKenzie River Corridor in September 2020 internet coverage was not reliable. Blue River was one of seven communities across the country to get a $300-thousand grant from the National Science Foundation for the project.

The project is a collaboration of Onward Eugene, Elevate Technology Group, and the McKenzie School District. McKenzie district students and families were the first to receive nearly 100 WI-FI hotspots this week as part of the pilot phase of the project.

Sayre said this project shows that it’s possible to bring reliable broadband infrastructure to rural communities.

“The digital divide is absolutely solvable and it would be great to fix it,” he said. “And then folks like myself and others who’ve spent time solving this problem can move on to other problems.”

Copyright 2022 KLCC.

Rachael McDonald is KLCC’s former News Director. Rachael has a BA in English from the University of Oregon. She started out in public radio as a newsroom volunteer at KLCC in 2000. After reporting for the Northwest News Network and KAZU, Rachael returned to KLCC in 2007 as Morning Edition host and a general assignment reporter covering politics, the environment, education, and the arts. She was hired as KLCC News Director in 2018. Rachael departed KLCC in June, 2022.
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