After finishing its first phase of broadband build out covering businesses and industrial parks, Rock Falls, Illinois, will begin focusing on residential customers in early 2019. While residents living close to business areas will have early access to the gigabit fiber network, the city of 9,000 will use the fiberhood approach to reach its remaining residential areas.
Growing a Gigabit City
The plan to invest in citywide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) began taking shape when Rock Falls residents became increasingly frustrated with the incumbent cable provider Comcast. Mayor Bill Wescott called for support for the project during his 2017 State of the City address, saying “The time is now to advance Internet in Rock Falls.” Later in April, the City Council approved the use of a $5.3 million general obligation bond issuance to fund the first phase of the build out, and an overall cap of $13 million for the duration of the project. The estimated cost of the project ended up being significantly reduced because the Rock Falls Electric Department (RFED) had already installed extra fiber-optic cable to connect substations as early as 2004.
By using GO bonds to finance their infrastructure deployment, Rock Falls departs from the typical funding approach. Most municipalities issue revenue bonds or employ interdepartmental loans and money they've saved from avoided costs when ending expensive leased lines to telecommunications companies. In recent years, other methods of funding fiber optic build outs have become increasingly popular as broadband infrastructure has obtained utility status in local communities.
Nine local businesses are already using FiberNet, which offers gigabit connectivity, a huge upgrade from the 10 - 20 Megabits per second (Mbps) download previously available from Comcast. Wescott hopes that the new speed will help bring growth for jobs, education, innovation, public safety, and government in the city. Once the city moves into the second phase of the project, residents will also be able to take advantage of the service.
Fiber in the Neighborhood
In the fiberhood approach, the residential service areas of Rock Falls will be divided into 14 fiberhoods that each contain about 200 homes, with each area’s build out cost estimated at $250,000. In order to reduce financial risk, residential fiberhoods will require 45 percent of prospective customers to sign up prior to construction. Customers will pay a $100 installation after the target percentage is met, but the city is currently waiving the $100 deposit required with sign-up.
As the city moves on to the second phase of the project, both businesses and residents alike will be able to enjoy reliable high-speed Internet access. Wescott hopes that the new service will help provide jobs, new businesses, and economic development opportunities. Even more important, the investment allows community members to keep dollars local rather than sending them to a distant national provider.
Image of Rock Falls park trail courtesy of visitrockfalls.com.