Tag: "iowa"

Posted October 3, 2017 by christopher

To be fair, "not feasible" could also mean that you are asking the wrong questions. Nothing rules out that the problem lies with both the consultant AND the questions. It's hard to tell from the outside which of these factors dominates.

An Incomplete Path

For years, Iowa's Decorah has been considering a municipal fiber network and local folks have been educating people on the possibilities. With so many other communities in Iowa moving forward successfully with projects, one would have thought Decorah might snag one of the consultants involved in those. It went instead with Uptown Services.

We generally don't name consultants unless we feel compelled to on this site but Uptown Services was also the consultant the last time I saw such a poor feasibility that I couldn't avoid writing about it - in Hillsboro, Oregon. They were also the consultant for Provo, Utah; Alameda, California; Salisbury, North Carolina; and other networks that have encountered significant challenges in their business plans. We don't know what role, if any, the consultants played in their struggles and, to be fair, Uptown Services has contracted with networks that have avoided any serious pitfalls.

I have no way of evaluating the many services they provide, but I can say that cities looking for feasibility analysis and early guidance in how to improve Internet access in a community should carefully consider their track record.

What upsets me is not that Uptown told Hillsboro and Decorah that a bond-financed rapid-deployment of citywide FTTH was too risky in their analysis. That may or may not be correct - and I deeply respect consultants that are willing to tell clients what they do not want to hear. The problem is that a consultant's job should not be to say "yeah" or "nay" for one particular approach but rather to guide a community along a feasible path of improving Internet access.

logo-decorah-iowa.png We have seen examples of communities where they found building a citywide fiber network at once to be too risky for their appetite. Rather than giving up and foregoing the essential benefits of high-quality Internet access in the modern era, they set about building an incremental or phased approach. See our interviews... Read more

Posted September 27, 2017 by lgonzalez

A recent proposal being considered by the FCC that has raised the loudest outcry has been the status of mobile broadband in rural areas. Now that Verizon is discontinuing rural subscriber accounts, the FCC will be able to see those concerns come to life.

Dear John...

The company has decided to cut service to scores of customers in 13 states because those subscribers have used so many roaming charges, Verizon says it isn’t profitable for the company. Service will end for affected subscribers after October 17th.

Verizon claims customers who use data while roaming via other providers’ networks create roaming costs that are higher than what the customers pay for services. In rural communities, often mobile wireless is the best (albeit poor) or only option for Internet access, so subscribers use their phones to go online.

Subscribers are from rural areas in Alaska, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wisconsin.

In a letter sent to customers scheduled to be cut off, Verizon offered no option, such as paying more for more data or switching to a higher cost plan. Many of the people affected were enrolled in unlimited data plans:

“During a recent review of customer accounts, we discovered you are using a significant amount of data while roaming off the Verizon Wireless network. While we appreciate you choosing Verizon, after October 17th, 2017, we will no longer offer service for the numbers listed above since your primary place of use is outside the Verizon service area.”

Affecting Customers And Local Carriers

Apparently, Verizon’s LTE in Rural America (LRA) program, which creates partnerships with 21 other carriers, is the culprit. The agreements it has with the other carriers through the program allows Verizon subscribers to use those networks when they use roaming data, but Verizon must pay the carriers’ fees. Verizon has confirmed that they will disconnect 8,500 rural customers who already have little options for connectivity.

Philip Dampier at Stop The Cap! writes:

Verizon has leased out LTE spectrum covering 225,000 square miles in 169 rural counties in 15 different states. The company said more than 1,000 LTE cell sites have been... Read more

Posted May 15, 2017 by lgonzalez

Indianola Municipal Utilities (IMU) in Iowa finalized its business plan for citywide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) service earlier this month. The decision marks a shift in how residents receive services in the community; IMU will take over from current partner Mahaska Communications Group (MCG) and expand to offer triple-play citywide.

Up To Now

Indianola created its municipally owned broadband utility back in 1997 and invested in fiber-optic backbone infrastructure a year later. They used the investment to backhaul fixed wireless service beginning in 2002 and by 2006 had developed a partnership with MCG. Expanding fiber to residents didn’t start until 2010 and two years later, MCG began offering triple-play services within certain areas of the city. Last year, the community commissioned a feasibility study to examine the possibility of using existing fiber resources to all premises in Indianola.

Under the current agreement between IMU and MCG, wholesale rates for residential connections are $30 per month and $100 per month for commercial connections. The feasibility study determined that the current rates “did not support expansion” to the entire Indianola community.

Trustees Say OK

Under the business plan approved by the Trustees at the May 8th meeting, IMU will step into MCG’s shoes and will buy out MCG’s existing 596 customers. IMU will be the FTTH retail services provider, offering triple-play of Internet access, VoIP, and IPTV. The network will work with Cedar Falls Utilities (CFU) on video services, connecting at the Des Moines regional data facility in order to reach them. IMU will have the opportunity to tap into about 7,350 potential residents and businesses in addition to MCG’s current customers.

The plan for expansion divides the city into 26 service areas but subscribers need to sign up early in order for the utility to connect their home. People who participate in early sign up will all have services activated at the same time. IMU has proposed rates for different services including:

  • Residential gigabit Internet access: $119 per month
  • Residential... Read more
Posted April 28, 2017 by lgonzalez

Coon Rapids, Iowa, recently began its upgrade project, replacing its cable network with Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH). Coon Rapids Municipal Utilities (CRMU) hopes to have the citywide project completed by late summer 2018.

Experience From The Eighties

CRMU started offering cable TV to the community in 1982. At first, the system only offered about 35 channels. In 1996, community leaders began considering the possibility of offering Internet access and formed a task force to address the idea. After talking with residents and researching other communities’ approaches, the task force recommended Coon Rapids move forward with establishing a communications system.

In 1996, 87 percent of votes cast in a referendum were in favor of investing in a municipally owned cable communications system and a similar percentage voted to have CRMU be in control of the system. By the end of August, just a few weeks after the vote, CRMU was offering dial-up Internet access.

The utility constructed a fiber-coaxial system in 1998 and within a year CRMU was providing telephone, Internet access, and cable TV services via the community network.

Coon Rapids is home to about 1,300 people and is located about an hour west of Des Moines.

Posted April 27, 2017 by lgonzalez

Charles City is looking to join the ranks of Iowa municipalities that offer fast, affordable, reliable connectivity via publicly owned fiber. The town of approximately 7,600 people released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a Fiber-to-the-Premise Feasibility Study earlier this month. Responses are due May 5th.

In 2005, Charles City voters approved a referendum that gave the city the authority to establish a telecommunications utility. They’ve already taken steps to pursue an Internet network infrastructure project, but incumbents Mediacom and CenturyLink have made marginal improvements in local services whenever the city appeared to move beyond a the feasibility study phase. So far, the city has held off from making their own investment.

In 2014, they joined with ten other Iowa communities to study the possibility of a regional effort, which later became known as the Iowa Fiber Alliance (IFA). The positive outcome of that study encouraged Charles City to continue on and, after funding a local preliminary study, they decided to commission a full feasibility study.

In this RFP, Charles City states that its intention is to offer retail services, but the study should also include information about other business models like open access and public-private partnerships. They are looking for several proposed financing options, including General Obligation (GO) bonds and revenue bonds.

Iowa Fiber Alliance

The regional effort in which Charles City is participating may or may not come to fruition, so the community needs its consultant of choice to consider three different possibilities. From the RFP:

SCENARIO 1: IFA builds a fiber transport network of which Charles City has ownership rights. The City shares a proportional share of network construction and operations. The IFA aggregates Internet bandwidth among members and provides at least two diverse connections to peering points. For video and telephone service architecture, Charles City receives services from other IFA members. 


SCENARIO 2: The IFA is not built. Charles City still partners with another company for Internet bandwidth, IP video, IP telephone switching services but provides for its own transport capacity by either leasing fiber or... Read more

Posted March 8, 2017 by htrostle

Last April, the small town of Waverly in central Iowa connected its first customers to test the new, citywide, Fiber-to-the Home (FTTH) network. After years of sub-par service from incumbent providers, the residents wanted something better. After securing funding, the municipal Waverly Utilities set to work on the Connect Waverly network. Services officially became available for everyone in July 2016.

Today, Connect Waverly stretches to all 10,000 homes and businesses in the town and provides high-speed Internet service of up to 1 Gigabit per second (1,000 Mbps) symmetrical to more than 1,200 residential and commercial customers. The Courier's Cedar Valley Business Monthly reports that Waverly's high take rate is double their six-month goal.

Jennifer Bloker, Waverly Utilities’ Director of Marketing and Public Information, told the Courier’s Cedar Valley Business Monthly, “We’re investing back into our community. We care about Waverly as a whole.”

Collaboration with Cedar Falls

Waverly Utilities had support from another utility, the long-running municipal network in Cedar Falls, Iowa. The two towns are collaborating and will share ownership of new equipment, such as an IPTV head-end system, to serve the customers on both networks. 

Waverly Utilities’ Director of Telecom Service, Jeff Magsamen, appreciates the support. Magsamen told the Courier:

“We have a good partnership with them. They’re always there to answer questions, they’ve helped us out a lot. Drawing on CFU’s [Cedar Falls Utilities] decades of experience has benefited us greatly.” 

Learn More About Waverly And Beyond

Back in 2013, Waverly turned to the voters to approve a measure for a municipal telecommunications utility. The community had already passed a similar... Read more

Posted February 7, 2017 by lgonzalez

Muscatine, Iowa, is ready to begin its upgrade, bringing municipal cable network customers up to Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) technology. Last week, the Board of Water, Electric & Communications Trustees from Muscatine Power & Water (MP&W) awarded the contract to a firm that will transform the network and bring speeds up to 1 Gigabit per second (1,000 Megabits per second) download tier. No word yet on upload speeds.

As we reported last spring, MP&W is taking a slow march toward finishing this project because there are a number of interlocking pieces that need to fit together correctly. The firm awarded the contract was able to introduce several alternatives that reduced the initial estimate of $8.7 million to $7.5 million. The upgrade will be funded with an interdepartmental loan from the electric utility.

At the same meeting, the Board also reviewed the 2016 budget which came out well for the MachLink communications utility.

Net income of $1,372,919 was budgeted for the communications utility, but actual net income was $2,148,272, with an ending cash balance of $8,257,000. There also is debt of $9,044,000 owed to the electric utility. Gowey said revenues were 3.2 percent over budget, while expenses were 25 percent under.

The upgrade will begin in May and customers are expected to be on the new system as early as August. The project should be completed by the end of 2018.

Posted January 18, 2017 by lgonzalez

Last spring we reported that Spencer Municipal Utilities (SMU) was marching steadily on with its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) project that it started in 2015. Within a few months, SMU is set to begin the fourth and final phase; the entire community will soon will have access to fiber connectivity. 

Last And Final Phase

As part of the last phase, the utility will place a new substation in the northeast section of town. According to SMU General Manager and CEO Steve Pick, the utility has purchased a prefabricated structure built especially for this purpose. The structure will be delivered and installed by the sellers and the utility will pay approximately $40,000 for the building.

Spencer, Iowa, population 11,200, is one of the many rural towns that chose to invest in the necessary infrastructure to improve connectivity for local businesses and residents, rather than gamble on whether or not national companies would ever deliver. They began serving customers in 2000 with a cable network and, after they realized customers’ bandwidth demands would continue to rise, decided to upgrade to fiber. The network has been good for the quality of life and economic development in Spencer.

Prepping For The Future

Amanda Gloyd, SMU marketing and community relations manager, told the Daily Reporter:

“Our customers continue to use more bandwidth and we only see that continuing to increase in the future. In the areas of Spencer where the conversion is already complete, we are able to offer 50 [Mbps] all the way to 1 [Gbps] of service, which is exciting to be able to offer in addition to the increased reliability, decreased maintenance and paving the way for how our communication services will be delivered in the future.”

Posted January 11, 2017 by lgonzalez

It’s no small feat to plan, deploy, and operate a municipal citywide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, but communities are doing it. We’ve put together a Citywide Municipal FTTH Networks list and a map, with quick facts at your fingertips. If your community is considering such an investment, this list can offer a starting point on discovering similarly situated locations to study.

The list is divided by state and each state heading offers a description of any barriers that exist and a link to the statute in question. Under each community, we also included relevant links such as to the provider’s website, coverage on MuniNetworks.org, and reports or resources about the network.

We used four basic criteria to put a community on our list and map:

  • The network must cover at least 80% of a city.
  • A local government (city, town, or county) owns the infrastructure.
  • It is a Fiber-to-the-Home network.
  • It is in the United States. 

Share the list far and wide and if you know of a community network that meets our criteria that we missed, please let us know. Contact H. Trostle at htrostle@ilsr.org to suggest additions.

Posted January 5, 2017 by lgonzalez

In November 2015, the voters in Vinton, Iowa, gave the approval for a telecommunications utility. The city and the municipal electric utility are taking the next step with a feasibility study to determine potential deployment costs and in the spring will present their findings to the community.

Vinton is home to about 5,200 people in Benton County, Iowa; it’s the county seat. The town’s area is 4.74 square miles, and there are approximately 2,000 homes and 250 businesses in Vinton. It’s located about 32 miles northwest of Cedar Rapids.

Like many rural towns, Vinton struggles with slow, outdated DSL connections; cable is available in some areas of town. According to one local business owner, slow connectivity is negatively impacting economic development:

Kurt Karr, owner of Monkeytown an online business supplies store, is one of the community business leaders lobbying hard for an increase in high-speed broadband service.

Karr says slow Internet speeds available now can be frustrating. One part of his business is video design work for companies. He says a video file that takes workers an hour to upload now to clients from their computers might take only a couple of minutes in a larger urban area with much faster internet connections.

Mayor John Watson told local channel KCRG-TV9, that incumbents “simply aren’t interested” in making investment in Vinton to provide better connectivity for businesses or residents, so the city is exploring doing it for themselves.

When Vinton Municipal Electric Utility has completed the feasibility study and have estimates for deployment costs they can present to the community, they’ll determine the next step:

Tom Richtsmeier, manager at Vinton Municipal Electric Utility, says some estimates are it would cost $3,000 to $4,000 per home to install fiber optic cable.

“Once we get the pricing back we’ll see if they’re still interested in having that brought into their home,” Richtsmeier said.

Local coverage from KCRG-TV9:

... Read more

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