It Takes a Village: Yellow Springs, Ohio Grassroots Group Wants Fiber

In the Village of Yellow Springs, Ohio, Springs-Net has created quite a stir among the 3,500 people. This grassroots group of villagers is advocating for a municipal network. Last year, they hosted a community Fiber Forum featuring our own Chris Mitchell. Now, they’re continuing the push for better home Internet access.

Springs-Net released a white paper on a possible municipal fiber network, bringing the results to the Village Council on February 16th. Although cautious of leaping into a large project, the Village Council recognized the benefits a network could have for the town and agreed to meet with the group in April to discuss next steps to improving connectivity.

Working From Home? Yellow Springs Says "Yes"

At the February 16th Village Council meeting, Scott Fife represented Springs-Net to provide an overview of the findings in the white paper. A retired Director of Information Technology at Centerville City Schools, Fife concentrated on information most relevant to the needs of the Yellow Springs community. 

According to Fife, over the last 15 years, the local business community has grown to include over 195 home-based businesses, an increase of 35%. In addition, the number of home-based engineering or scientific workers has increased 69% during the same period. Fiber connectivity could boost these existing businesses while attracting new ventures to the Village. 

As we've noted before on MuniNetworks, community networks can enable residents to work from home, avoid the commute, and increase family time. Much like Yellow Springs, Westminster, Maryland, wanted to improve Internet service for its citizens. The city decided to partner with a private company called Ting to build a community network. Now, some Westminster residents are able to telecommute rather than travel to their offices. With home-based productivity increasing in Yellow Springs, the village may indeed find a fiber network the best way to support this burgeoning aspect of the local economy.

Huge Benefit: Existing Assets

At the Village Council meeting, Fife also highlighted the community’s assets that will decrease costs and improve support if the village moves forward with a new network. The village already has the experience of a municipal electric utility, and a key component of the network - a data center - is available at the local nonprofit Miami Valley Educational Computer Association.

Many communities begin the process of building a fiber network through their municipal electric utilities: Pulaski, Tennessee; Hudson, Ohio; and Owensboro, Kentucky; are only a few. An existing electric utility facilitates a fiber network project because a community can draw on institutional knowledge. In the case of Yellow Springs, the utility already has access to the Right-of-Way and utility poles, both of which are vital for quick aerial deployment. Springs-Net has also been in communication with people at Sandy, Oregon, who built a network without the benefit of an electric utility.

What’s Next?

Currently, the group estimates the city would have to take out a $3 - 4 million revenue bond to pay for construction and there are other questions that need to be addressed. Council President Karen Wintrow summarized the situation:

“What you’re asking of Council and our staff is an incredible amount of work and financial support,”

Council member Judith Hempfling, however, reflected the optimism of the proposal, noting that the network could be a real asset to the village:

“If we could make this happen, it would be fantastic.”

In April, the Village Council will host a working meeting with the group to delve deeper into the possibility.