Fiber Flowers in Pella, Iowa

While known for its annual "Tulip Time" celebration, Pella is now celebrating the flowering of a municipal fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network in this small central Iowa city.

Network planners say construction, deploying 100 percent of the fiber underground, is on track to be finished this week. And, although the city has not launched a formal marketing campaign, they have already reached a take-rate of over 40 percent with one subscriber now getting 10 gig service.

The new network is known as Pella Fiber – a subsidiary of the city’s municipal electric utility, which, in the words of the Pella Chronicle, has been bringing “rays of light … (to) dispel the darkness” for residents and businesses in this community since 1911. Over a hundred years later, and with 92 percent approval at the ballot box, Pella voters in May of 2018 authorized the creation of a new municipal telecommunications utility that would transmit rays of light through fiber optic cables. The vote would lay the groundwork for future-proof connectivity in this city of about 10,000 residents, just 44 miles east of Des Moines.

It took two years to develop the business plan and design the network before the city hired Excel Utility Contractors to begin construction in June 2020. First having deployed nearly 34 miles of fiber, network builders connected Pella’s backbone to the Grinnell Hospital facilities nearby, a collaboration that linked the two cities, a critical part of the core network that allowed Pella to provide the needed bandwidth to build out to Pella residents and businesses.

In the fall of 2021, Pella Fiber began lighting up its first subscribers. Today, in the city that Wyatt Earp and his family once called home, residents no longer need to get out of Dodge to get triple play services as the fledgling municipal network is a one-stop shop for high-speed Internet access, cable, and phone service.

When we checked in with Pella Fiber this week, Telecommunications Director Doy Ousley told us they were “moving at a perfect pace.”

This week network construction will be complete and today we are hooking up our first 10 gig residential subscriber. We are now up to 1,600 subscribers.

‘Citizens Weren’t Afraid to Commit’

While monopoly ISPs and industry front-groups embark on a 50-state misinformation campaign in opposition to municipal broadband proposals with claims that such projects are “financial boondoggles” that fail, Pella Fiber joins the ranks of hundreds of communities proving the naysayers wrong.

In a recent city newsletter, Pella City Council Member Lynn Branderhorst harkened back to when Pella Mayor Jim Mueller first floated the idea of “establishing a municipal telecommunication system that would provide fast, reliable broadband with stellar customer service.”

“We knew it could make life better for everyone,” she recalled. “But it seemed like a big commitment. And we wondered: Was the City of Pella prepared to invest in developing a new utility?”

With overwhelming support from voters, the city worked with local and regional banks to secure a $4.3 million loan to cover half of the capital costs, paying 3.375 percent interest for the first seven years of the loan with the interest rate resetting to the average of the five-year daily treasury yield curve rate plus 2.55 percent. The other half would be paid for by the issuance of Capital Loan Notes.

“The people of Pella are fiscally responsible, but this town also knows how to roll up its sleeves and do something for its future. In this case, citizens weren’t afraid to commit a purse of money from city funds to make a new service a reality,” Council Member Branderhorst wrote.

It’s part of who we are, and I think it’s because we believe in ourselves. It’s in our DNA, unseen but powerful, just like the fiber under our feet.

The fiber under their feet, Branderhorst noted, is why “if you’re a student, you can access a world of information to support your studies. If you’re a business owner, you can reach and serve your customers quickly. If you work from home, you can connect instantly and effectively with your coworkers and employer. If you’re in a nursing home and your chart needs to reach your doctor or a specialist, it can happen quickly. And if there’s a problem, you can reach customer service 24/7 and talk with a local expert to get the support you need to be up and running again as soon as possible.”

Making Everybody Happy

That 24/7 customer service is central to Pella Fiber’s mission, Pella’s Telecommunications Director Doy Ousley emphasized.

Having hired nearly a dozen technicians and support staff, Ousley said that although they are mostly dealing with new installations and not many troubleshooting calls, “we live and work here, and we even fix people’s service on Saturday or Sunday if necessary.”

That’s a major difference in comparison to the slow DSL service Windstream offered folks in town before the arrival of Pella Fiber. And, aside from a commitment to subscriber support, the cost of service is as pretty as a tulip.

For Internet-only service, subscribers get a symmetrical gig connection for $75/month. For TV, there are a variety of packages, with basic service starting at $40/month. Subscribers who bundle Internet and TV, Pella offers a $10/month discount or $20/month discount for subscribers who bundle Internet, TV and phone service.

Subscribers can also get a Wi-Fi Mesh Extender for an additional $5/month, a Whole-Home DVR for $10/month, and/or a free Set-Top Box for in-home TV’s to receive a fiber signal ($5 for each additional set-top box).

“We are just trying to make everybody happy,” Ousley said.

Pella Fiber is off to a promising start, judging by subscriber comments so far as noted in The Oskaloosa Herald:

Our installer was knowledgeable, efficient and personable.

The process went very smoothly and has worked flawlessly.

The service has been super-fast and reliable.

Watch a video that illustrates why the bandwidth Pella Fiber offers is the best connectivity available for local residents and businesses below:

Header image of the Molengracht Canal in Downtown Pella courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Inline image of Pella parade courtesy of Flicker user WindRanch, Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Map of Pella, Iowa courtesy of City-Data.com, no copyright infringement is intended