Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
Content tagged with "decorah"
Decorah, Iowa is moving forward on a long-percolating plan to expand the city’s core fiber ring to provide affordable broadband access to long-neglected residents and businesses.
While the project has been discussed for years, local officials tell ISLR the project gained renewed momentum during peak COVID, and is creeping closer to launch.
Contracts are still being finalized as the city hopes to spend somewhere around $12 to $15 million to deliver fiber to all 3,000 potential subscriber locations. The full project would take about three years to deliver fiber to all 7,740 city residents, with the first subscribers potentially coming online this fall.
“Decorah has been in pursuit of fiber to the premises for the last 8 to 9 plus years and we finally have broken through some of our challenges on how to get to the finish line,” Chopper Albert, Decorah IT Director told ISLR.
According to Albert, Decorah’s recent progress is thanks in part to new City Manager Travis Goedken, who has long advocated for expanding the city’s existing fiber network to drive affordable fiber access citywide.
New City Management Team Pushes Forward
Since 2013 the city has owned an 11-mile core fiber network, dubbed the Decorah MetroNet. MetroNet was born out of frustration after a major flood in 2008 across much of Iowa resulted in prolonged communications network outages.
MetroNet (not to be confused with the Indiana-based ISP that goes by the same name) currently provides access to Luther College and 18 additional government buildings and anchor institutions.
To be fair, "not feasible" could also mean that you are asking the wrong questions. Nothing rules out that the problem lies with both the consultant AND the questions. It's hard to tell from the outside which of these factors dominates.
An Incomplete Path
For years, Iowa's Decorah has been considering a municipal fiber network and local folks have been educating people on the possibilities. With so many other communities in Iowa moving forward successfully with projects, one would have thought Decorah might snag one of the consultants involved in those. It went instead with Uptown Services.
We generally don't name consultants unless we feel compelled to on this site but Uptown Services was also the consultant the last time I saw such a poor feasibility that I couldn't avoid writing about it - in Hillsboro, Oregon. They were also the consultant for Provo, Utah; Alameda, California; Salisbury, North Carolina; and other networks that have encountered significant challenges in their business plans. We don't know what role, if any, the consultants played in their struggles and, to be fair, Uptown Services has contracted with networks that have avoided any serious pitfalls.
I have no way of evaluating the many services they provide, but I can say that cities looking for feasibility analysis and early guidance in how to improve Internet access in a community should carefully consider their track record.
What upsets me is not that Uptown told Hillsboro and Decorah that a bond-financed rapid-deployment of citywide FTTH was too risky in their analysis. That may or may not be correct - and I deeply respect consultants that are willing to tell clients what they do not want to hear. The problem is that a consultant's job should not be to say "yeah" or "nay" for one particular approach but rather to guide a community along a feasible path of improving Internet access.
Colorado may have been the epicenter of local authority disruption this election cycle but two Iowa elections were also worth exploring.
Decorah Chooses Muni Authority
In Decorah, the community of 8,000 received awards for its innovative use of the city's dark fiber network, MetroNet. A community led effort, Decorah FastFiber, convinced community leaders to ask voters if they want to expand the use of that fiber. Voters decided 1,289 to 95 to give the city the authority to establish a municipal telecommunications network.
Decorah's ballot question specifically asked if that authority should extend to video, voice, telephone, data, and all other forms of telecommunications and cable communications, reports the News. A second ballot question, which passed with similar results, asked voters to authorize the city to establish a Board of Trustees for the utility.
Vinton Trusts Its Electric Utility
Vinton, home to approximately 5,200 people, voted overwhelmingly to form a telecommunication utility. The community, located northwest of Cedar Rapids, voted 792 to 104 to put the community's municipal electric utility in charge of the initiative. This matter had been voted on twice previously - in both cases the community had voted against the proposition.
A comparatively large number of communities in Iowa have invested in their own Internet networks but Mediacom and other providers like CenturyLink have fought hard to prevent municipalities from passing the necessary referendum to build a network. This year, we had no reports of opposition from incumbent operators, a remarkable change that frankly leaves us puzzled but hopeful nonetheless.
Congrats to both Decorah and Vinton for reclaiming digital self-determiniation. We don't know if either one has immediate plans to build a network or what model they may use but now they have full authority to explore all options.
Decorah, named an "All-Star Community" in part due to benefits from their internal fiber network, is now exploring new ways to utilize MetroNet. According to a recent Decorah Newspapers article, the six community anchor institutions (CAIs) that collaborated to deploy the network recently met with the city council to discuss the future.
The 11-mile network began serving CAIs and an additional 18 facilities in 2013. After a 2008 flood that knocked out communications, the city, county, and school district began planning for the network. Eventually, the project grew to include Luther College, the Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission, and the Winneshiek Medical Center. BTOP funds paid for much of the approximate $1 million deployment but contributions from participants supplied an additional $450,000.
According to the article, MetroNet supplies each institution with its own fiber, leaving plenty to spare. Decorah City Manager and Chair of the MetroNet Board Craig Bird says that the network has a "vast amount" of dark fiber available that is not being used. Members of the community have approached the Board about using the fiber for better connectivity beyond current uses:
Bird said the MetroNet Board has to decide how to respond to a grassroots petition committee of citizens “demanding access to the MetroNet and faster broadband speeds and fiber capacities” for Internet access to private homes and businesses.
“The MetroNet Board is now starting to look at the future and what the MetroNet holds for the six anchor members, but also for the community,” he told the Councils.
At the city council meeting, Bird discussed the possibility of creating a municipal Internet utility, creating a cooperative, forming a nonprofit, or leaving MetroNet as a service for the existing members and facilities. They also considered the option of leasing dark fiber to private providers.
Bird also told the council that the MetroNet Board has agreed to participate in a regional feasibility study to include northeast Iowa. The Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities has commission the study that will include a number of towns:
The town of Decorah, Iowa, population 8,000, lies along the winding banks of the Iowa River. So close to the river, in fact, that in 2008 its floodwaters swamped parts of the town, including the emergency operations center. That unfortunate event got city leaders thinking about how to ensure secure and redundant communications in future emergencies. The city, county, and school district decided to partner on a fiber optic network build that would meet their shared needs.
The resulting project, called the Decorah Metronet, has lead to the city being named an “All-Star Community” by the Iowa League of Cities. The award was given last month in recognition of Decorah’s innovative policies, and specifically singled out the fiber optic network for its contributions to public safety, cost savings, and intergovernmental cooperation. The award is given each year “based on innovative efforts in areas such as urban renewal, development, preservation, service sharing or quality of life improvements.”
Completed in the fall of 2013, Metronet boasts an 11-mile, 144-strand fiber optic loop. It connects 18 facilities belonging to six different anchor institutions: the city of Decorah, Winneshiek County, Decorah Community Schools, Luther College, the Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission, and the Winneshiek Medical Center. Metronet not only provides redundancy and savings on connectivity costs, but data center services and offsite backup for its member institutions as well.
When the network went live last November, City Manager Chad Bird emphasized its economic potential and indicated it would eventually offer extensions to individuals and businesses:
"I see the Metronet fiber being an economic development tool for our community -- having it in place and having excess fiber available for the commercial industrial segment of our economy. I can think of technology heavy business -- call centers or data centers - that might appreciate having excess fiber capacity."