Businesses in Idaho Falls have access to the city’s municipal fiber network, Circa, but now the city council is considering how to bring better connectivity to residents.
How Best To Use What We Have
In order to get a better idea of what options are available and the costs of each, in 2015 city leaders engaged two consulting firms to evaluate a citywide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) option, an open access network option, how commercial providers may step up to better serve the city, or the city taking on the role as Internet Service Provider (ISP). They are now beginning to evaluate those results.
Private providers have leased Circa dark fibers for years to connect local businesses and businesses themselves have worked directly with Idaho Falls Power, the entity that manages the network. “We have enjoyed a successful public/private partnership in our fiber optic enterprise for well over a decade,” said Jackie Flowers, General Manager, in a recent Local 8 News article.
Nevertheless, city leaders are keeping their eye on tomorrow. From another Local 8 News article:
"We're tripling our broadband needs every few years," said Jackie Flowers, the general manager of Idaho Falls Power that manages the network. "That exponential growth, for us to be thinking about the long term, how are we going to meet those needs?"
Seven ISPs are now using the network to serve approximately 400 businesses in Idaho Falls. The publicly owned infrastructure provides voice, video, and data with Gigabit per second capacity. The city began developing the network in 2002 and began serving customers in 2007 via more than 170 miles of fiber-optic cable throughout the city. In addition to saving the community by reducing telecommunications costs, the network has generated revenue.
City leaders in Idaho Falls are conscious of the value of the asset they have now and smart to consider the future. As they did in 2002, they are looking ahead so they don’t have to play catch-up later on. Consultants put early estimates for a citywide expansion and upgrade at approximately $60 million but:
Many in the City Council agreed that while the initial price is steep, they worry more about what they would loose if they didn't act and didn't prepare for the future.
"One of the responsibilities of the city council is not to just sit where we are and do status quo," said Ed Marohn, an Idaho Falls city council member. "We have to look at the future for the city. What we envision 20 or 30 years down the road."
City Council members and representatives from Idaho Falls Public Power agreed to do more research over the summer and aim for public input this fall before taking the next step.
The city is the largest in eastern Idaho, with a population of 57,000 within the Idaho Falls-Blackfoot metropolitan area of approximately 136,000. The city is the county seat of Bonneville County and the center of activity in western Wyoming as well as eastern Idaho. Located on the Snake River, Idaho Falls maintains an extensive Green Belt through the center of its 22 square miles. It’s often on various “best places to live” lists with low crime rates, a vibrant art community, and extensive outdoor recreation.
Certainly, a fast, affordable, reliable FTTH network would keep Idaho Falls on those lists and maybe bump it up a notch or two.