In Iowa, New Hampton Municipal Utilities has begun site surveys and beta signups for their Fiber-to-the-Home network, with the first users getting access in the next few weeks.
In July we wrote about West Des Moines’ announcement that it would build an open access citywide conduit system to spur broadband infrastructure investment, and how Google Fiber became the Iowa city’s first partner.
In this episode of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast, Christopher is joined by Jamie Letzring, Deputy City Manager for West Des Moines, Iowa, and Dave Lyons, a consultant with the city, to discuss in more detail how things unfolded behind the scenes.
Together, the group digs into the how West Des Moines started with a long-term vision—called West Des Moines 2036—that, in part, brought local leaders together to discuss universal high-speed Internet access as a path to equity, economic vitality, and citizen engagement. Jamie and Dave share the challenges that came with a rapidly congesting right of way (ROW) landscape, and how that ultimately led to the decision to commit to a citywide conduit model that has attracted Google Fiber. Finally, Chris, Jamie, and Dave talk about what the citywide conduit system will do for business development and city residents once it’s complete.
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Read the transcript for this episode.
This show is 40 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.
Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes...Read more
On July 6th, the City of West Des Moines, Iowa, announced an innovative public-private partnership with Google Fiber to bring gigabit Internet to all 67,000 of its citizens over the next two and a half years. The city will build conduit connecting every home and business and available for use by different providers. Google Fiber will be the first, coming in and laying and maintaining its own fiber once the city’s construction is complete. It’s the result of years of effort by the city council and serves as an example of other communities looking for solutions to improve options for all citizens.
The origin of the decision dates to 2016 and the city’s 2036 Vision [pdf]. In it, West Des Moines committed to “doubling down on technology,” creating five- and ten-year milestones that reached for specific markers of success by 2026, including: 80% of the population having access to gigabit Internet service, $2.5 million per year in new revenue generated by the city’s information infrastructure, and all citizens using the West Des Moines Integrated Network app for greater dissemination of information and citizen engagement.
In the city’s announcement, Mayor Steve Gaer said,
A key element of the City’s 20-year strategic plan calls for all residents, regardless of their means, to benefit from high-quality and high-speed connectivity.
Community leaders, stakeholders, and citizens all played a role during the planning phase, and project officials considered three criteria for guidance. The first was the expectation by its citizens had that the Internet was a utility; whether or not the city wanted to become an ISP, its efforts would have to work toward universal, affordable, reliable access. The second was a determination to regain and then maintain control of the municipality’s rights-of-way so as to preserve the infrastructure future of West Des Moines. And the third was that any future public network facilitated by the city should serve as a platform for serving residential and commercial users according to their diverse needs, from business to education to telemedicine.
Deputy City Manager Jamie Letzring...Read more
Iowa is home to many community networks, from co-ops to muni cable, fiber, and other technologies. Three communities in the state have just recently made important announcements about their plans, and several others are moving forward with networks. There is so much happening in Iowa right now that shows potential for other states that don't limit competition.
There is a long history of local broadband excellence in Iowa for new networks to draw on. Cedar Falls Utilities was just recognized as the fastest ISP in the nation by PCMag. It has well over 20 years of success, but recent years have seen it sharing its expertise and facilities to lower the cost for other communities to build networks without reinventing the wheel. Local private Internet service provider ImOn is also a partner for these networks, offering voice services.
Many of these networks being built will be able to share services and lower their costs by being on the same ring to get some scale benefits despite being smaller communities. I remember many years ago when Eric Lampland of Lookout Point started pushing for this ring, and I am dumbfounded why we don't see more of this cooperation among munis and small providers in other states. Thanks to Eric and Curtis Dean of SmartSource Consulting who helped me with background for this Iowa update.
We have a brief mention of West Des Moines's recently announced partnership with Google Fiber in here, but we're finishing a longer post that solely examines their approach. Between this, that, and our Coon Rapids podcast this week, it is officially Iowa week on MuniNetworks.org!
Vinton's new municipal fiber network has just started connecting subscribers, leading to a memorable testimonial in the local paper, Vinton Today:
As a gal that uses the Internet every day, and as someone who had the chance to briefly use...
This week we’re focusing on stories from Iowa, including municipal broadband in Coon Rapids and a public-private partnership between West Des Moines and Google Fiber. Come with us as we visit the Hawkeye State.
This week on the Community Broadband Bits podcast Christopher speaks with Brad Honold, General Manager at Coon Rapids Municipal Utilities (CRMU). Coon Rapids is a small town in west-central Iowa, and CRMU started there with a cable TV system almost 40 years ago. Today, it remains one of the smallest municipal fiber networks, especially of those that offer cable TV packages.
Brad reflects on the experience of overbuilding their network three times. In 1982 the utility built a forty-channel cable television system. In the mid-1990s it upgraded to a hybrid fiber-coax system in order to add telephone and Internet services, with 87% of the community behind the decision. And in 2017 Coon Rapids Municipal Utilities began building a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, taking advantage of the density of the city to run a dedicated fiber from the utility's operations center to every premises in town (known as a home run structure).
Christopher and Brad talk about the evolution of the communications utility over the last four decades, from cable to fiber today. As Coon Rapids has transformed from a one-employer town to having a younger, more diverse business scene, CRMU has risen to the challenge of providing reliable, fast, affordable broadband. Christopher and Brad discuss the importance of the network taking community concerns seriously, including engaging the community in discussions about what is needed.
See our other coverage on the state of broadband in Iowa.
We want your feedback and suggestions for the show; please e-mail us or leave a comment below.
Read the transcript for this episode.
This show is 24 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the...Read more
As state lawmakers debate in committee rooms and Capitol chambers around the country, various broadband and Internet network infrastructure bills are appearing on agendas. Some are good news for local communities interested in developing publicly owned networks while other preemption bills make projects more difficult to plan, fund, and execute. We've gathered together some notable bills from several states that merit watching - good, bad, and possibly both.
For years, local communities were not allowed to bond to develop publicly owned broadband infrastructure in New Hampshire. Last year, the state adopted SB 170, which opened the door a crack so that municipalities can bond to develop infrastructure for public-private partnerships (PPPs) in "unserved" areas. This year, the New Hampshire General Court has the opportunity to push open the door a bit wider with SB 459.
SB 459 allows local communities to potentially define "unserved" areas themselves by putting more responsibility on Internet access providers. Municipalities must currently engage in a request for information process in which they must reach out to all Internet service providers operating in the community. SB 459, if adopted, would allow a community to consider areas "unserved" if a provider does not respond to such a request to clarify which premises are unserved. With the "unserved" designation, municipalities can bond to develop infrastructure to serve those premises.
In Pennsylvania, where lawmakers meet all year, Rep. Pam Snyder introduced HB 2055 in late in 2019. The bill allows local governments to provide telecommunications services, but limits them to unserved areas. If passed, the bill amends the Municipalities Authorities Act and,...Read more
Despite state laws requiring referenda and public reporting, Iowa is home to successful municipal networks, which have been undeterred by these potential stumbling blocks. A bill in the Iowa Senate, however, may present a new barrier discouraging new networks in places where Iowans need it the most. In communities where Internet access companies aren't offering the caliber of services residents and businesses need, the proposal would restrict the possibility of competition.
Earlier this month, State Senator Dan Dawson, R-Council Bluffs, introduced Senate Study Bill 3009, which is supported by Mediacom, a national cable company that offers connectivity to nearly two-thirds of Iowans. The bill threatens cities’ access to financing for municipal broadband networks and challenges their ability to set competitive prices. This would impact cities with long established networks, like Cedar Falls and Coon Rapids, as well as communities that have recently decided to move forward with broadband plans, like Fort Dodge, Vinton, and Waterloo.
Tim Whipple, General Counsel for the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities, which opposes SSB 3009, wrote in an email:
While community-owned broadband may not work for all communities, cities should have the opportunity to begin providing these services without having undue restrictions placed on them . . . especially in areas where incumbent providers aren’t properly investing.
Bill Brings New Barriers
Senator Dawson chairs the state Commerce Committee and introduced SSB 3009 as a proposed committee bill.
As currently written, the bill would make a number of...Read more
Iowa has multiple rural communities where large national Internet access companies have not invested in high-quality Internet infrastructure. Iowans have adopted a self-reliant approach, however, and one look at the community networks map shows that publicly owned networks pepper the state. Osage, in the north-central part of Iowa, has offered Internet access to the community since 2001. In a recent announcement from the U.S.D.A, we learned that Osage Municipal Utilities (OMU) will receive almost $400,000 to continue their efforts to connect more premises in rural Mitchell County and connect people with fiber Internet access.
According to the announcement:
Osage Municipal Utilities (OMU) in northern Iowa will use a $397,749 ReConnect Program grant to provide broadband service to underserved households, farms and businesses in Mitchell County. This will be accomplished by directly accessing a fiber trunk line that runs through the heart of Mitchell, Iowa, and up to the border of Minnesota, allowing OMU to increase its service area bandwidth. The funded service area includes 151 households spread over 20 square miles.
We wrote about Osage's broadband and solar projects and interviewed OSU General Manager Josh Byrnes back in 2016. Listen to the interview here:
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
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.”