This Small Missouri Town Wants to Pair Wine With Fiber

People and businesses in the small town of Hermann, Missouri, primarily rely on slow DSL for Internet access. There are also a few areas with cable connections available, and even a few parts of town where no ISPs offer service. This month, community leaders took decisive action to bring another option to town — they adopted a resolution to pursue federal funding for a publicly owned fiber optic network.

Let the People Decide

Late last year, Mayor Robert Koerber proposed a spring non-binding referendum to determine how strongly Hermann voters wanted to invest in the project. At the time, the Board of Alderman were considering a bond issue to cover the cost of deployment, which they estimated at $2.6 million. 

Koerber thought that a strong outcome in support of the project would help attract financing when it was time to begin the project. He also considered the issue something voters should weigh in on, due to the bonding question.

The Board of Alderman supported the idea, but other town matters, including finding a new tourism and economic development director, required immediate attention. Town leaders also decided to look for some one who could help educate the community about the pros and cons of the fiber optic project. Rather than move forward with the referendum town leaders decided in January to put off any vote for the time being.

Pursuing Funding

Prior to their mid-August Board meeting, Alderman in Hermann had the opportunity to meet with representatives from the USDA to discuss other funding possibilities. They determined during those conversations that they could apply for funding from the Rural Utilities Service, which us under the purview of the USDA, for loans to deploy the network. Deadline for their loan application is September 30th.

logo-hermann-mo.png When the Board of Alderman got together, they passed a resolution to authorize submission of their loan application. At the time they passed the resolution, the City Administrator had made plans to attend special training to help complete the application and improve their odds.

Hermann Has an Edge

The town of approximately 2,400 people sits in the east central part of the state, on the southern bank of the Missouri River. It’s the county seat of Gasconade County and is famous for producing about one-third of the state’s wine. The region is one of the first federally recognized American Viticultural Areas, where German immigrants brought vineyard and winery culture in the 1800s.

Regardless of the success of the wineries and vineyards in Hermann, the community has lost population in recent years. The town is less than three square miles with agricultural land around the town center.

In addition to operating their own water and wastewater systems, Hermann has municipal electric distribution and natural gas systems. Like other communities considering fiber optic Internet networks, Hermann’s familiarity and existing utility assets give the community an advantage in expertise, personnel, and existing infrastructure.

Rural cooperatives have been investing heavily to connect Missourians in recent years, but with their existing utilities and an opportunity to obtain favorable funding from the RUS, this may also be the right time for Hermann.

Image of Hermann by Davekeiser [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons.