In January 2016, Holland, Michigan, made commencing fiber-optic Internet access to residential neighborhoods its number one goal for fiscal year 2017. They’re a little behind schedule, but the town is now moving forward by expanding a pilot project in order to serve a larger downtown area.
It's Really Happening
The Holland Board of Public Works (BPW) held an informational meeting on March 13th to answer questions from the community and share plans for the potential expansion. About a year ago, we reported on the results of a study commissioned by the city in which, based on a take rate of about 40 percent, 1 Gigabit per second (1,000 Mbps) connectivity would cost residents about $80 per month. Small businesses would pay approximately $85 per month and larger commercial subscriber rates would run around $220 per month. The update on the plan confirms those figures, noting that the four businesses that tested the pilot services had positive experiences. As a result, BPW feels it’s time to expand to more of downtown.
"If it goes really well we hope to be able to expand the service out as far into the community as we can," said Pete Hoffswell, broadband services manager at BPW.
The expansion is planned for construction in June and July, with service testing in August. Actual delivery would be in September, BPW estimates.
BPW will use a boring technique to place conduit and fiber below ground so there will be minimal disruption. No streets will be closed. Next, BPW will get construction bids, evaluate them, and present them to the City Council for approval.
Not An Impulse Decision
Holland has had dark fiber in place for decades for the municipal electric operations. Later BPW extended it to schools and businesses that needed high capacity data services. After years of incremental expansions, the network is now more than 150 fiber miles throughout the city.
They tried to lure Google to the community in 2010, but when the tech company went elsewhere, city leaders created a 2011 strategic plan which confirmed the desire to improve connectivity. The plan came with a $58 million recommendation to invest in a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network but the plan stalled when community leaders never acted on it.
AT&T and Comcast serve area establishments in an unsatisfactory manner and in recent years local businesses and entrepreneurs have taken to pressuring community leaders to make more use of publicly owned fiber. They created hollandfiber.org, a grassroots group of business owners and residents who are educating the public, advocating for a municipal FTTH network, and sharing information on developments. Several of the organizers are volunteering to the pilot project group and can attest to the improvement of fiber over prior connectivity.
When the pilot project launched, businesses that volunteered to use it were happy with the results.
Dan Morrison of Collective Idea, one of the pilot businesses, said it's ideal for uploading, downloading, sharing large files and video conferences, as is common practice for the software developing company.
He said he would love to get rid of AT&T.
"I think it's way overpriced for minimal offerings," Scott said. "(Fiber) has worked for us more often than not, and any bugs there were got worked out smoothly and quickly."
Memorializing Better Connectivity
What about those FY2017 goals? The City Council has scaled them back a bit to reflect the project at hand. At a recent meeting, they adjusted the city’s FY2018 goals to include expanding fiber Internet access to the downtown area, rather than expecting to reach neighborhoods so soon.
At their March 15th meeting, the City Council also solidified the commitment to the project by unanimously adopting Holland’s Master Plan. Within the city’s goal of offering “high, quality, efficient, and cost effective” public services, one of the potential action steps is, “Ensure that all residents and businesses have fiber optic broadband access.”