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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.
On this week’s episode of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast, Sean Gonsalves joins regular host Christopher Mitchell in a conversation with Michael Maloney, a public finance banker and the Managing Director at D.A. Davidson based in Iowa. Maloney has spent his career working on public financing projects to hope to spur economic development, including broadband.
The three discuss Gonsalves’ recent story on Fort Dodge and how the community’s frustrations propelled a push to build a municipal fiber-to-the-home network.
They also discuss the financial and regulatory barriers and opportunities for municipal broadband across the state and how Fort Dodge is an example of how projects of this size can still come to fruition.
We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.
Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.
Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.
Fort Dodge City Council is moving forward with a plan for a long-awaited municipal telecommunications utility project, adopting several resolutions Monday night that will allow the city to enter into a future loan agreement of up to $40 million for a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) project.
“We need to get this up and running as fast as possible,” Councilman Dave Flattery said at the meeting.
The city currently depends largely on Mediacom and Frontier for broadband Internet access, both of which are among the lowest rated service providers by the American Consumer Satisfaction Survey.
Along with the future loan agreement, the council passed a resolution setting a timeline for bids on its Request for Quotes for the fiber network procurement materials. Proposals are due August 13th.
The council agreed to continue working with HR Green - an engineering firm that helps both private and public entities with a variety of engineering projects, including broadband, across the country - on the design and construction plans for the network.
The city will pay HRGreen $1.7 million spread over three phases of the project for its services, with hopes to start construction on the fiber-to-the-home project by the summer of 2022.
The meeting also included the proposed rates for potential services, starting at 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) symmetrical for $75/month and 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) symmetrical for $95/month for residential services. Businesses that sign up for symmetrical service from one of three tiers: 100 Mbps for $100/month, 250 Mbps for $250/month, and 1 Gbps for $500/month.
Iowa already has more municipal broadband utilities than many other states and the voters in Fort Dodge decided on November 5th, that that it's time for one more. "Yes" votes came in at around 72 percent of the total while 28 percent of those casting ballots decided against a measure to grant authority for a municipal telecommunications network.
A Copper Island in a Sea of Fiber
In June, consultants described the way Fort Dodge had become "an island of copper in a sea of fiber to the home." Local rural cooperatives around the city of around 24,000 have been investing in Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) while incumbents Mediacom and Frontier still rely on old infrastructure to serve the more densely populated city areas. Curtis Dean from SmartSource Consulting noted that people in the rural areas served by the co-ops likely have access to better connectivity than those living within Fort Dodge. The city had hired SmartSource to evaluate the broadband situation in Fort Dodge and make recommendations.
The results of a survey and assessment of connectivity in the community encouraged community leaders to ask voters for the authority to look further into a possible municipal telecommunications utility.
At an October forum, Mediacom representatives argued their case against a "yes" vote on the proposal. Those that attended, offered negative comments to Mediacom about the service they've received from the company. Frontier Communications, another major Internet service provider in Fort Dodge, didn't bother to send a representative to the forum.