Idaho Falls Bringing Residents Up to Speed With Pilot Project

Eight years after completing its citywide dark fiber network, Idaho Falls, Idaho, is now taking steps to offer municipal fiber optic Internet services to its residents. While the city engaged two consulting firms in 2015 to evaluate internet service options, the municipal power board of Trustees has now approved a pilot program to test the potential of creating a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network throughout the city this year. Once a pilot neighborhood is selected, the city expects to begin testing fiber optics in a thousand homes by early winter 2019. 

Idaho Falls, with a population of about 60,000, is the largest city in eastern Idaho. Located on the Snake River, the city is the county seat of Bonneville County and a center of activity in the region. While seven ISPs currently use the city’s publicly owned Circa dark fiber network, with its recent decision, the city hopes to finally use this infrastructure to its full potential and provide services of its own. 

Crucial Infrastructure

Many Idaho Falls city council members feel that the decision to provide fiber to residents and businesses is critical to the economic future of the city. In a conversation with East Idaho News Councilman John Radford noted that fiber connectivity is essential infrastructure - as crucial as gutters, sewers, and roads were in the 1900s. City spokesman Bud Cranor said,

“There is a huge need for increased capacity and connectivity not just for residents, but for business development. [The decision to offer fiber to residents] is going to be monumental in [the city’s] efforts to diversify [its] economy and bring new business.”

Jace Yancey, the Operations Technology Manager for Idaho Falls Power, asserted that the expanding network will provide a robust communication system and give customers access to unmatched broadband speeds. When describing the plan, he said, “This is light and fiber. The amount of data it can carry is just amazing.” While the new service will bring Internet speeds of over one Gbps to residents and spur economic development, it will also allow Idaho Falls residents the ability to access connections more akin to those in the neighboring city of Ammon.

Ammon Leads the Way

In 2016, Ammon became one of the first cities in the United States to offer citywide fiber optic Internet. While the network initially served only government and business uses, by late 2017, almost 300 homes were connected in the city of 14,000.

logo-ammon-id.gif Ammon is using a Local Improvement District (LID) approach to connect the city. Property owners within the determined boundaries of each project area have the opportunity to pay for the installation by attaching the cost to their property over a period of 20 years. If property owners choose to forgo connection during the original window of time, the cost for installation is between $3,000 to $5,000 out of pocket. However, the City charges users the low rate of $16.50 a month to connect to the network. Property owners then purchase Internet service from one of the several Internet access providers that operate via the publicly owned infrastructure. In order to encourage as much competition as possible, property owners connected to the network have access to an online dashboard from the city, which allows quick and easy transition between ISPs.

The network is also testing several novel capabilities including the option for customers to take services from more than one provider and the ability for public emergency communications to take priority over all other network uses. The Ammon Model has changed prior conceptions of municipal open access networks and is an important tool Idaho Falls might consider for its own plan. More specific details on the Idaho Falls fiber optics plan are yet to come, however, city officials are excited to finally bring their city’s residents direct access to the publicly owned network.

Learn more about the Ammon Model and the benefits the community enjoys due to their investment from our conversations with Bruce Patterson and Michael Curri. Listen to episode 259, episode 207, episode 173, and episode 86 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.