It was more than two years ago when voters in Vinton, Iowa, resoundingly gave their blessing to the city to form a telecommunications utility. After study and consideration, the municipality is now ready to move from design to deployment.
In mid-December, a Notice to Bidders went out from the Vinton Municipal Electric Utility (VMEU) and the engineering firm working with the community to develop a publicly owned Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) network. According to the notice, Vinton plans to build the network “in its entirety” over the next year.
According to the media release, the city plans an underground deployment and anticipates the network will include approximately 82 miles of fiber. The Media Release indicates that several RFPs will be forthcoming throughout 2019.
Read the Notice to Bidders Media Release here.
In the fall of 2015, after Vinton voters decided 792 to 104 to put VMEU in control of the broadband initiative, it took until early 2017 for the city to hire a firm to develop a feasibility study. Many people in the community of about 5,100 people were tired of poor Internet access via slow DSL. Cable Internet access is available in some areas of town, but both residents and businesses feel that without high-quality connectivity, Vinton will lose out to other Iowa towns that already have created municipal networks.
Cedar Falls and Waverly are both within an hour's drive north of Vinton. Other communities in Iowa have invested in fiber networks to improve economic development, including Spencer, Lenox, and Harlan.
The feasibility study presented in the spring of 2018 recommended that the city take advantage of its knowledge base within VMEU and create the telecommunications utility that the voters approved in 2015. Consultants discouraged Vinton from investing in an open access network, noting that the problems citizens have indicated — better voice, video, and high-speed Internet access — might not be solved unless the municipality take the reins and offers those services directly. They recommended that, if Vinton decided to invest in a network and offer services, they provide triple-play to the community.
Consultants that completed the feasibility study estimated that the network would cost approximately $8.9 million to connect all 2,100 residential and commercial premises in Vinton’s 4.74 square miles. They anticipated that the city will fund the project with revenue bonds and working capital.
Wheels of Progress Turning
By November, VMEU had appointed a committee to look into the particulars of the project and the feasibility study, and to develop recommendations. At their November meeting, they decided to aim for early 2019 as the time to provide more information to the people of Vinton.
Locals seem ready to get the project off the ground. An October editorial from Vinton Today expressed impatience and fear of the future if the city didn’t follow through with their plan to improve local connectivity:
The public support is strong because all the small communities around us offer high-speed fiber-optic broadband service, and it’s clear that the current providers aren’t going to invest resources in Vinton.
Unless we act, Vinton’s technolgy will continue to fall further and further behind.
Vinton needs to be competitive for young families and businesses, we should also be interested in educational parity and fairness to those whose incomes don’t support high internet bills.
Vinton NEEDS to step into the next century, and now.
If all goes according to plan, 2019 will be the year that this rural Iowa community gets the connectivity they desire to protect their future.
Image of the Benton County Courthouse in Vinton by Scott Romine [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.