Voters Approve Muni Telecom Authority in Pella, Iowa

Looking at the Community Network Map, anyone can see that Iowa is filled with towns that have chosen to invest in publicly owned Internet infrastructure. On May 1st, the community of Pella took a step at the polls that will bring them a little closer to having a "pin" on our map. Ninety-two percent of those voting in the special election chose to authorize the City Council to establish a telecommunications utility.

Approval to Move Ahead

The election results don't establish a timeline for construction or operation of a fiber network or authorize any funding, simply allow city leaders to take the initial steps at forming the utility in the future. The city already operates its own municipal electric utility, so they have the same advantage of many other rural Iowa communities that go on to deploy fiber networks. At a March 12 City Council meeting, elected official unanimously approved the resolution to hold the election. From the minutes of the meeting:

The need for a municipal telecommunications utility is being driven by concerns expressed by citizens and businesses regarding access to highspeed Internet. Furthermore, a municipal telecommunications utility could help meet the long-term high-speed internet access needs of our citizens and businesses.

It is also important to note that many rural communities across Iowa have either formed municipal telecommunications utilities, or are in the process of forming the utility. The reasons these communities have authorized the formation of a municipal telecommunications utility are similar to the reasons the City of Pella is considering this issue. 

The Pella Area Community and Economic Alliance (PACE), a nonprofit of business and citizen leaders, has endorsed the initiative to establish a municipal telecommunications utility. They note that larger businesses in town that require fiber for daily operations have been able to obtain lines from incumbents, but other businesses must suffer with slow connectivity. Incumbents Windstream and Mediacom offer DSL and some cable in the community. According to PACE, peak business times are particularly difficult for establishments who must rely on the older technology.

Elected officials recognize that poor connectivity is their weakest characteristic when trying to attract new businesses and retain those already in Pella. Places such as Waverly, Indianola, Coon Rapids, and Muscatine have already deployed Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) or are upgrading existing publicly owned networks with fiber. Decorah and Charles City are investigating the possibilities. Without better Internet infrastructure in place, Pella will be passed over by new businesses and risk losing those who currently call the town home.

This Is Pella

Located in south central Iowa, Pella is about 40 miles south of Des Moines in Marion County. Pella Corporation and the Vermeer Manufacturing Company are the largest employers with Century College and the Pella Regional Health Center also retaining many people in the community. All of these large entities need fiber connectivity for different purposes.

Approximately 10,000 people live in Pella, which prides itself on its Dutch heritage. In addition to an annual May Tulip Time Festival, Pella's 1850s-style functioning Vermeer Mill is the tallest working windmill in the U.S. With the Lake Red Rock reservoir nearby, the community also attracts tourists in the summer.