Tag: "iowa"

Posted November 6, 2019 by lgonzalez

Iowa already has more municipal broadband utilities than many other states and the voters in Fort Dodge decided on November 5th, that that it's time for one more. "Yes" votes came in at around 72 percent of the total while 28 percent of those casting ballots decided against a measure to grant authority for a municipal telecommunications network.

A Copper Island in a Sea of Fiber

In June, consultants described the way Fort Dodge had become "an island of copper in a sea of fiber to the home." Local rural cooperatives around the city of around 24,000 have been investing in Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) while incumbents Mediacom and Frontier still rely on old infrastructure to serve the more densely populated city areas. Curtis Dean from SmartSource Consulting noted that people in the rural areas served by the co-ops likely have access to better connectivity than those living within Fort Dodge. The city had hired SmartSource to evaluate the broadband situation in Fort Dodge and make recommendations.

The results of a survey and assessment of connectivity in the community encouraged community leaders to ask voters for the authority to look further into a possible municipal telecommunications utility.

At an October forum, Mediacom representatives argued their case against a "yes" vote on the proposal. Those that attended, offered negative comments to Mediacom about the service they've received from the company. Frontier Communications, another major Internet service provider in Fort Dodge, didn't bother to send a representative to the forum.

In an interview in late October, Fort Dodge Mayor, City Manager, Assistant Director of Parks, and Curtis Dean, spoke with The Messenger and provided more detail about the proposal and what people in the community could expect if the measure passed. They...

Read more
Posted October 2, 2019 by lgonzalez

Fourteen years ago, voters in Waterloo, Iowa, overcame a campaign aimed to prevent them from developing publicly owned Internet infrastructure. They voted to allow the city to create a municipal telecommunications utility in the fall of 2005, but the idea languished. Recently, however, leaders in Waterloo have taken up the initiative and are moving ahead.

Time to Advance

At their September 25th meeting, trustees on the Waterloo Telecommunications Utility board unanimously voted to hire a consultant in order to move forward on the plan that voters approved back in 2005. Two local organizations have conducted studies on connectivity in the Waterloo area within the past year.

“I think it’s time,” said board member Rich Kurtenbach, “We’ve got communities all around us that have their own utilities when it comes to broadband.”

Since 2005, the community has never approved funding to develop a publicly owned broadband network. The Telecommunications Utility board has met to discuss the possibility of asking the community for funding on several occasions and at one time requested enough to hire a consultant once, but the measure failed. The issue has been on the shelf since 2014 and, according to Chris Wedland of the city attorney’s office, “This board has had a unique history and it has had large gaps in its operating history.” Now that the board is active again, their first step has been to select a consultant to help them with next steps.

Waterloo doesn’t have a municipal electric utility like many of the other Iowa cities that have already deployed Internet network infrastructure. As Mayor Quentin Hart commented, “At some point we’re going to have to get some experts in here to start helping us move the process forward.”

...

Read more
Posted July 19, 2019 by lgonzalez

When utilities, including broadband providers, need to cross railroad rights-of-way to serve customers, some railroad operators have been known to press their advantage. Several states have addressed utility complaints by establishing standardized rates and setting up processes to create a more reasonable and predictable system. Eliminating this obstacle to deployment is another step in bringing broadband to the communities that need it the most.

Party Concerns

Often railroads obtained title to real property during 19th century acquisitions as the infrastructure was being built. They want to preserve as much of their authority and title rights as possible and to ensure that they can receive the maximum value for their interest in the land.

For utilities, cost of deployment is a primary concern. When railroads demand unreasonable fees at crossings or drag out negotiations as a delay tactic, they also impinge on a utility’s ability to meet operational deadlines. Safety and engineering integrity can be negatively impacted by difficult negotiations, unreasonable demands, or exorbitant costs.

Different States, Different Stories

Few states have addressed the problem with statutes establishing standard utility fees for railroad right-of-way crossings. David L. Thomas, Managing Member of the strategic utility planning firm Eagle 1 Resources (E1R) has worked with telecommunications companies and other utilities to negotiate railroad crossing arrangements. He's seen that standard crossing fees set down in statute benefit deployment by ending delay and reducing costs and would like to see the trend pass to every state.

seal-wisconsin.png In South Dakota and Iowa, the fee had been established at $750. Wisconsin allows railroads to charge $500 [PDF see page 12] and state law in Illinois, where railroads have a strong presence in metro areas,...

Read more
Posted June 5, 2019 by htrostle

Vinton, Iowa, is moving ahead with plans for a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. This small town is home to only 5,100, but soon it will have Internet service that rivals the largest cities. Broadband Bytes, the blog of the Community Broadband Action Network, posted that Cedar Falls, Iowa, and ImOn Communications will be key to Vinton’s efforts to build the community network.

Steady Progress Since 2015

Since fall 2015, Vinton voters have been awaiting the results of their broadband vote, and the town has been steadily moving forward on plans to improve Internet access. Slow DSL connections limit businesses and residents, and cable is only available in some areas of the community. In 2017, Vinton began to develop a feasibility study for the project, and by Spring 2018, the town had an estimate of $8.9 million for the cost to connect all 2,100 premises within the 4.74 square miles of the community. 

The project has drawn attention from the Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA), a corporate sponsored group that works to spread misinformation about municipal networks. Their questionable methods to attempt to sway community leaders failed, however, and the project is still advancing. The need for broadband is strong in this town. 

Moving Forward: Working with Others and Answering Questions

Building a FTTH network is no small task, but Vinton can look to Cedar Falls for advice. Cedar Falls has been a trailblazer -- it was one of the first cities to develop a municipal network for Internet access. Vinton will be collaborating with Cedar Falls to use the centrally located headend, equipment needed to provide...

Read more
Posted May 8, 2019 by htrostle

Grinnell, Iowa, home to about 9,000 people, has a need for speed. That’s why the city is looking to Mahaska Communication Group (MCG) to provide high-speed Internet service of up to 1 Gbps (1,000 Mbps) over a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. After MCG announced the possibility in mid-April 2019, Windstream Communications now also plans to bring FTTH to Grinnell according to The Scarlet and Black.

“Undeniable Correlation"

MCG has already distributed a two-question survey to residents in the Grinnell area to determine interest in the FTTH network. To give residents an estimate of the prices, MCG linked the price list for Oskaloosa. The prices are $50 for 25 Mbps (download) / 25 Mbps (upload) and $75 for 1 Gbps/1 Gbps. The company also offers triple play packages of Internet, TV, and phone.

The Grinnell Area Chamber of Commerce stated that MCG may start building the FTTH network in 2020. Similarly, Windstream has revealed a plan to start building its own FTTH network in Grinnell in the Fall of 2019. City Manager Russ Behrens told The Scarlett and Black:

"At the end of the day, our goal is not necessarily to support one [Internet service provider] over the other, it’s to provide the best broadband service to the community that we can, so that’s what we’re trying to do.”

He also mentioned that there was “an undeniable correlation" between the MCG interest and the Windstream announcement.

Two Years of Examination

About two and a half years ago, the city and the Grinnell Area Chamber of Commerce put together a series of focus groups to learn what residents and businesses wanted. Better Internet service made it into those...

Read more
Posted April 9, 2019 by lgonzalez

Vinton, Iowa, is on the road to Internet access self-reliance as the community of about 5,100 people continue to move forward with their Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) project. They’ve come under attack, however, from the Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA). The group is part of a web of organizations aimed at increasing corporate dominance and corporate concentration of power. TPA sent a letter filled with the usual twisted anti-muni spin, but this time went a step farther. A TPA senior fellow mischaracterized a quote from one of the industry’s most respected experts in order to push their harmful agenda.

Former State Representative Chip Baltimore did not run for re-election last year and now fills his days trying to prevent competition for the large incumbent ISPs. His methods include interfering in local communities’ decisions to improve connectivity. In an attempt to undermine the project and frighten community leaders out of supporting it, Baltimore sent a letter to Vinton Municipal Electric Utility Board Members in February.

The letter included several overused fallacies that permeate TPA literature and in other letters we’ve seen directed to decision makers in other communities. Baltimore also included a quote from Joanne Hovis from CTC Technology & Energy. The quote applied to take rates in another part of the country far away from Vinton. 

Farr Technologies, the consultants that performed the feasibility study for Vinton, estimated that iVinton could achieve take rates of 40 percent in the first year and grow to 62 percent within five years. Baltimore tried to use Hovis’s statement, which applied to a different community, to discredit Farr’s estimate. It’s true that these rates appear high, but folks in Vinton have shown that they believe the electric utility can provide better service than incumbents Mediacom or CenturyLink. Farr’s consultants considered the community’s survey results, expressions of dissatisfaction with current incumbents, and the electric utility’s stellar reputation with customers when estimating future take rates. 

logo-vinton-electric.png In 2015, when the town started to dig...

Read more
Posted January 4, 2019 by lgonzalez

Iowa communities that suffer from poor connectivity and want better broadband infrastructure now have another possible funding source, but they need to take action before March 15, 2019. Iowa’s Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) is now making $1.3 million in grants available to specific areas that want to improve local connectivity.

Learn more here.

In addition to Internet access providers, local governments, utilities, and “other entities that provide or intend to provide broadband service” are eligible to apply and receive funding. Projects that can receive funding must be new projects that have not started installation of broadband infrastructure. “Broadband” is consistent with the FCC’s definition of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload.

Funding of up to 15 percent of the estimated cost of a broadband project is available.

Targeted Areas

The awards are specifically meant to be distributed to projects that will serve “targeted areas” within the state. Those areas — deemed as locations where no provider offers broadband as defined by the FCC — cover large portions of the state . The OCIO has provided a map visualizing where those many targeted areas are across Iowa. With the “Open Map in New Window” option, users can submit specific information, such as addresses and census blocks, to determine if a location is within a “targeted area.” The blue areas indicate "targeted areas."

2018-01-IA-broadband-grants-targeted-areas-map.png

Important Info

  • Applications are only accepted through the Iowa Grants System between February 18th and March 15, 2019.
  • Applications will not be accepted prior to February 18th, 2019.
  • All questions should be submitted to the OCIO before January 11th, 2019 at ociogrants(at)iowa.gov.
  • For detailed information on the application, check out the OCIO Broadband Grants page, where the office has provided examples, guides, and checklists to help with your application.

Good luck, Iowa...

Read more
Posted December 31, 2018 by lgonzalez

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.

It’s Feasible

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...

Read more
Posted November 26, 2018 by lgonzalez

When considering Iowa, what comes to mind? Open fields? Livestock? High-quality Internet access? According to the FCC, if you live in Iowa, your broadband problems are over. Of course, as ILSR Research Associate Katie Kienbaum points out in her recent piece in the Des Moines Register, the reality in the Hawkeye State is quite different than the FCC’s flawed stats report. The reason is the FCC’s infatuation with satellite Internet access — a view that has some real consequences for Iowa and its people. Read the piece in its entirety here or at the Des Moines Register:

 

FCC says satellite connectivity is good enough for rural Iowans. It’s not.

Everyone in Iowa has access to broadband, according to the federal government. In fact, two-thirds of Iowans can supposedly subscribe to at least three different broadband providers.

Surprised?

You should be. The hundreds of thousands of rural Iowans who struggle to get good connectivity are.

The sizable disconnect between federal statistics and reality is a result of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) classifying satellite Internet access as high-speed broadband. Since every census block in Iowa has access to satellite connectivity, everyone is officially considered served.

However, by accepting satellite Internet access as “good enough,” the federal government is dooming rural Iowans to second-rate connectivity, effectively shutting them out of the modern economy.

Anyone stuck with Internet access from a satellite provider will tell you that it’s not true broadband. Speeds are much slower than cable or fiber, and high latency, or signal transmission time, makes it practically impossible to use for video or phone calls. On rainy days, you might not get service at all. This poor quality isn’t even reflected in the price. Satellite providers often charge more than other types of Internet access providers, while forcing subscribers to decipher complicated data plans and sign on to long contracts.

If we exclude expensive and unreliable satellite Internet access from the data, Iowa actually has much worse connectivity than the federal government claims. More than 10 percent...

Read more
Posted May 3, 2018 by lgonzalez

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....

Read more

Pages

Subscribe to iowa