The following stories have been tagged iowa ← Back to All Tags

Fiber in Lenox, Iowa

When community leaders in Lenox, Iowa, gathered together to examine the community's cable TV options in the 1980s, they probably didn't expect their decision to impact local Internet access. Fast-forward 30 years, and this town of 1,400 people now has one of the most sought after forms of Internet access infrastructure: Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH).

Lenox Municipal Utilities owns and operates a FTTH network that offers symmetrical speeds to hundreds of customers in town. It’s just one of many communities around the nation that have invested in this rugged, future-proof technology.

Same Utility, Changing Technology

We spoke with the Lenox Municipal Utilities General Manager John Borland who graciously provided some of the history of the network.

Since the early 1900s, Lenox has operated its own electric and water systems. These essential services enabled the community to thrive in the southern plains of Iowa. Eventually, a local entrepreneur decided to build and operate a TV system to ensure that the Lenox community stayed connected. In the 1980s, the town purchased the coaxial network from the owner who was ready to sell the system, but wanted to keep ownership within the community. Unfortunately, Borland didn’t know the identity of the entrepreneur whose investment eventually led to top-notch connectivity in this most unexpected place.

By the late 1990s, the network needed replacing, and nationwide, communities had already begun to realize the importance of Internet access. The incumbent Internet service provider, Frontier, offered dial-up and some DSL. Anticipating future need, Lenox decided to rebuild the entire network with fiber. 

Better Connectivity in the Community

In 2005, the community voted on a referendum to enable the utility to provide Internet service; it was one of many towns voting that year to ensure local control. The FTTH build cost about $1.5 million, which they funded through municipal revenue bonds.

Farmers Mutual Telephone Company ran a fiber line to Lenox, ensuring middle mile connectivity. By 2008, Lenox Municipal Utilities had the FTTH system up and running, bringing high-speed Internet to residents and businesses.

Now, Lenox Municipal Utilities offers triple play: television, telephone, and symmetrical Internet service, so upload and download speeds are equally fast. They also provide bundled packages for customers who want to purchase all three services. The network has about 450 customers for their Internet service, and several larger businesses have dedicated lines. 

Lenox is just one of the many small communities that offer next-generation high-speed connectivity in Iowa. For more stories about these self-reliant Iowa communities, check out our past stories in the Iowa tag.

Broadband Communities Regional Conference This Fall In Minneapolis

"Fiber For The New Economy" will be the theme of  Broadband Communities' annual regional conference which is scheduled from Oct. 18th to 20th in Minneapolis.

The conference will explore the hottest developments in fiber and economic development with panel discussions and workshop sessions on such topics as Google Fiber, incumbent and other provider deployments, and public-private projects, according to Jim Baller, the conference’s economic development chairman.

There will also be sessions about developments in “major verticals,” including health care, education and energy, adds Baller, who is also co-founder and president of the Coalition for Local Internet Choice

The conference will focus on broadband activities and projects in primarily Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Montana, as well as western Ontario and Manitoba. 

The Blandin Foundation is assisting Broadband Communities with content and conference planning, a move that means the Minnesota non-profit will have a much smaller fall event of its own, said Bernadine Joselyn, Blandin Foundation director of public policy and engagement. Blandin’s fall conference is scheduled for Sept. 13th and 14th in Duluth.  For further information, go to the event website.

Key facts on the Broadband Communities’ Conference

What: “Fiber for The New Economy”

Where: Radisson Blu Downtown Hotel, 35 S. Seventh St., Minneapolis, Minnesota  55402.

When: Oct. 18-20, 2016

Register online for the conference at the event website. Check back in the future with the main event page for more as the agenda is set.

Muni In Muscatine: Upgrades, Speeds Up, Outperforms

Cedar Falls may be the Iowa city famous for its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, but that won’t stop Muscatine. This small city of approximately 29,000 people is about to upgrade its aging network. For a little over a year, the municipal utility, Muscatine Power and Water (MP&W), has planned for the move to FTTH with funding from an interdepartmental loan. Now, FTTH is coming to Muscatine's MachLink Internet access service.

MP&W expects to break ground this year on this $8.7 million FTTH project and to finish building the network in 2017. Fiber will offer speeds much faster than those available on the existing hybrid fiber-coax (HFC) network. In anticipation, MP&W is increasing speeds for subcribers without raising rates.

More than a Year in the Making

The local newspaper, the Muscatine Journal, has closely followed the story. In late November 2014, MP&W announced the planned FTTH upgrade. MP&W is taking a slow and steady approach and planning to complete the upgrade in 2017. The latest Muscatine Journal article from this March emphasized how the large infrastructure project has many "interlocking" pieces that must fit together to make the project successful.

As we reported when MP&W announced the upgrade in 2014, a FTTH network will achieve immediate goals and help achieve a number of benefits. MP&W wants to improve residential services, reduce maintenance costs, and increase network reliability. Upgrading to FTTH will also contribute to long-term goals, such as encouraging economic development. Fiber is a future-proof technology, adapting to the increasing need for bandwidth from households, businesses, and institutions. MachLink will offer speeds of up to a Gigabit (1,000 Megabits) per second.

Outperforming Expectations

In the spirit of community, MP&W is increasing speeds without raising rates. MP&W announced that current customers will get twice the speed for no additional charge. Current MachLink subscribers with the fastest tier receive 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) download which will double, but Gigabit speeds will dwarf even that. Upload speeds have yet to be determined.

It’s a good move as the TV and Internet services in Muscatine are continuing to grow in popularity. The communications division has outperformed already high expectations according to the Muscatine Journal this January:

“A profit of $1.25 million was budgeted for the Communications Utility for 2015, but actual profit was $1.79 million. For December, actual profit of $214,638 outperformed the budgeted $120,136.”

Without this public network, those dollars could have all gone to absentee-owned providers - who wouldn’t be investing money to improve the network. Also, it’s important to note that publicly owned networks do not actually make a “profit” to be distributed among shareholders, but rather extra revenue is reinvested in other community projects, used to improve the network, to pay down debt, or put in a rainy day fund. Publicly owned network "shareholders" are people who live and work in the community served by the network.

The FTTH network will make current services even better. As Beecher Sykes, MP&W manager of telecommunications, told the Muscatine Journal in March,

“(Fiber is) an extreme benefit not only to customers but the community as a whole.” 

Spencer, Iowa, Keeps Building

This month, Spencer Municipal Utilities (SMU) will continue to expand the town’s fiber network. The steady incremental build will bring better Internet access to residents, business, and municipal facilities in the northwest Iowa town.

Incremental Approach

The Spencer Daily Reporter wrote about how SMU is connecting more residents with Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) one step at a time. The municipal utility broke the project into four phases.

Phases I and II included 2,700 homes and businesses. Phase III, which begins this month, will impact more than 1,100 homes and businesses. Phase IV will finish extending FTTH service to the rest of the city.

The project will replace the existing telecommunications infrastructure installed in the late 1990s. Curtis Dean of the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities described the network's history in our Community Broadband Bits podcast from 2012.

Evolving Needs, Changing Technology

Spencer Municipal Utilities marketing and community relations manager, Amanda Gloyd, said to the Spencer Daily Reporter:

"Just like internet service has evolved from dial up to digital service lines and cable modem, fiber will give customers the next level of service to continue to improve the way they live, work, and play and we are continuing to build out this service throughout the community of Spencer."

Spencer, like many other small towns, chose to invest in Internet network infrastructure so residents and businesses in this rural area could get fast, affordable, reliable services. Subscribers appreciate the excellent customer service that comes with their local, publicly owned network.

dewey-cat.gif

Before We Leave

In keeping with an Internet tradition, we want to mention Spencer's other sensation, Dewey the library cat. The little orange fluff-ball ended up in the public library's drop-box in 1988, and he was adopted by the library staff as "supervisor of staff." Dewey Readmore Books went on to become the publicity darling of the library cat tradition. He was featured in cat magazines, documentaries, and (of course) books.

Even though Dewey has passed on, cute cat videos will live forever, and Spencer's awesome FTTH will help keep his memory alive.

Photo of Dewey courtesy of the Spencer Public Library

Three Communities Make Big Moves Toward Municipal Fiber Networks

A March article in Broadband Properties Magazine spotlights three communities around the country that are making progress toward creating municipal fiber networks. The City of Centennial, Colorado announced that they have completed a feasibility study and a Master Plan detailing the city’s plans to develop a network. Additionally, the Cities of Indianola, Iowa and Rancho Cucamonga, California announced that they have begun studying the feasibility of starting their own municipal fiber networks. 

Indianola, Iowa

Indianola, Iowa is a city of about 15,000 just 20 miles south of Des Moines. As we wrote a few years ago, Indianola currently owns an open access Fiber-to-the Premise (FTTP) network which provides Gigabit speed Internet access, plus TV, and phone service to most businesses and select residents in Indianola. The study they recently commissioned will explore the feasibility of using this existing network for constructing a FTTP network to the entire community. 

Indianola built its existing fiber network, which they launched in 2012, out of frustration as CenturyLink refused requests from the community to upgrade their DSL network and the incumbent Mediacom began overcharging for their Internet services. Today, Indianola Municipal Utilities is the infrastructure owner and a wholesale provider of this fiber network while Mahaska Communication Group, an Iowa-based Internet Service Provider (ISP), performs the operations and maintenance services for the network. 

Rancho Cucamonga, California

The City of Rancho Cucamonga, California recently asked a private consulting firm to perform a study to determine the feasibility of creating a fiber optic network. City officials see a municipal fiber network in this city of just over 170,000 as a potential driver of economic development. The city is located about 45 miles east of Los Angeles.

seal-rancho-cucamongo-ca.jpg

Like Indianola, Rancho Cucamonga owns existing fiber-optic infrastructure. They city owns 25 miles of 96 strand fiber and 5 additional miles of vacant fiber conduit connecting to numerous municipal facilities. The city plans to first create a network for municipal buildings and businesses. Later, Rancho Cucamonga will integrate the network into the city’s traffic system and expand the network to serve residents.

Centennial, Colorado

The City of Centennial, Colorado released the results of a feasibility study and Master Plan in March. The study and plan detail a strategy to expand an existing 48-mile dark fiber infrastructure to create an open access network in this Denver suburb of 100,000.

The Master Plan calls for the city to spend $5.7 million to expand its existing fiber infrastructure and create a municipal fiber network that will provide vastly improved Internet access to all of the schools, libraries, local government and public safety organizations in Centennial. The city is also designing the network to run close to major business and residential areas and will have enough capacity to serve businesses and households. The city would serve as a wholesale provider and lease the network infrastructure on a non-exclusive basis to private ISPs that would provide retail services to subscribers. 

Centennial uses its 48-mile fiber infrastructure to facilitate operations of the city’s traffic signal equipment and to connect its government facilities to privately owned Internet networks. In 2013, Centennial residents voted overwhelmingly in support of a ballot question to reclaim local telecommunications authority that had been hijacked in 2005 when the state legislature passed SB 152. The voters’ 3:1 approval of that referendum opened the door to other possibilities for their publicly owned fiber.

Centennial’s Mayor Pro Tem C.J. Whelan, the chair of Centennial’s Fiber Steering Committee, described city’s vision for the network:

“This plan provides the roadmap for a future fiber-optic network infrastructure that will become a key resource of the city and ultimately enable Centennial to pursue improvements to public services and enhance economic development.”

City Councilwoman Stephanie Piko added.

“The city will now be in a position to partner with anchor agencies, such as school districts and public-safety agencies to offer better alternatives for their technology needs and improve their services to our residents.”

Sweet Sixteen: Waverly Utilities Hooks Up First Fiber Customers

This week in Waverly, Iowa, the local electric utility, Waverly Utilities, hooked up the first customers for its new Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. It’s been a long time coming for the town of 10,000 people. 

16 Years Ago: A Vision

The community first had the idea back in 2000 when they voted to form a municipal telecommunications utility after incumbent providers proved a letdown.  Reacting to the vote, those incumbent providers improved their networks a bit, so Waverly Utilities decided to hold off on building a fiber network. 

In 2013, residents and businesses found that the incumbent providers were again not providing necessary connectivity. Taking matters into their own hands, they pushed to create a new, publicly owned network. By 2015, the community had secured revenue bonds for the $12 million project.

Today: A Reality

Waverly Utilities already has 1,100 customers signed up to receive the service, and more homes and businesses will be connected over the next three months. By July 1st, Waverly Utilities’ network will be fully operational, delivering the next-generation connectivity that residents have long been waiting for.

For more about Waverly's project, take a few minutes to listen to Chris interview Mike Litterer, who was serving as Interim General Manager of Waverly Light and Power in 2013. He talked with Chris during Episode #53 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

2016 IAMU Broadband Conference: Explore Muni Possibilities, March 30 - 31

The Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities (IAMU) is presenting the 5th Annual Broadband Conference on March 30 & 31 in Des Moines. This year, the organization is adding the Municipal Broadband Explorers Track to provide information for communities seeking more information as they consider the publicly owned option.

Our own Chris Mitchell will lead the Expedition and will be accompanied by a number of community leaders who know a thing or two about municipal broadband. Some of the presenters will be:

The Municipal Broadband Explorers Track offers specialized conversations that community leaders seek as they consider whether or not a muni is right for their town, city, or county. You can view the full agenda here to plan your visit.

You can also register for the conference at the IAMU website.

Davenport Stepping Closer To Muni

Davenport, Iowa, is more committed than ever to bringing Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to its residents and businesses.

At a January City Council public work session, current members detailed the city's plans for new members. Alderman Bill Boom noted that the community already has approximately 100 miles of fiber in place and by serving its own telecommunications needs, Davenport has saved $600,000 per year.

Connectivity As It Is Davenport

In January 2015, Davenport received the results of a feasibility study that documented lack of redundancy, inconsistent distribution of fiber, and complaints from businesses about speeds and costs. Incumbents are just not keeping pace with Internet access needs of Davenport's small business growth or the residential demand. Education and healthcare were two other areas where a fiber network could offer a long list of benefits to the community. The school district uses multiple providers because reliability is such a common issue.

People who live in Davenport also want better connectivity:

Residents, like retired University of Iowa Professor and resident of Davenport, Ezra Sidran also weighed in, saying they support a broadband infrastructure increase..

“I’m just for this, I don’t know the details all I can say [is] fiber optics are where it’s at,” Sidran said.

A Changing Community

Davenport, population 102,000, is part of the "Quad Cities" metropolitan area. The region includes four counties in northwest Illinois and southeastern Iowa and also encompasses Bettendorf, Iowa, and Rock Island, Moline, and East Moline in Illinois. The population of the entire area is approximately 384,000. 

In the 1970s and 1980s, the region endured some difficult economic times as the community shifted from agriculture and related manufacturing. International Harvester, John Deere, and Caterpillar factories all closed; the community has had to attract other employers. Hy-Vee, Tyson Fresh Meats, and Genesis Health System, are only a few of the major job located in the Quad Cities today.

Looking For A Partner

Davenport is seeking a private partner and even incumbent Mediacom has expressed interest in working with "Iowa's Front Porch." At a recent public meeting, a company representative stated that Mediacom "absolutely" will be a interested in a partnership. The city wants a partner to build and manage a network that Davenport will own. The consultants who completed the feasibility study recommend the city move forward with a Request for Quotation (RFQ).

At the next City Council meeting, members will dig deeper into the details and share their findings with the public:

“You will see what the proposals look like, what the monthly payments would look like and how the internet service providers that are going to ride on the network will make those payments,” Boom said.

Boom and Klipsch say it will be two years before this project is complete.

“We are committed to making this happen, it’s just going to be what’s the time period it’s going to take, to make it all come to fruition,” [Mayor Frank] Klipsch said.

Local video coverage:

Another Coop Story: Wiatel Wires Western Iowa

Iowa, known across the country for its agriculture, is known in other circles for its exciting community broadband projects. Earlier this year President Obama visited Cedar Falls to praise its municipal network and to support other efforts to improve rural high-speed Internet access. One of those efforts is Wiatel. This small telecommunications coop is beginning a $25 million project to upgrade its network from copper to fiber throughout its entire service area.

Fiber Connectivity

The cooper network that Wiatel uses now is sufficient for basic phone service, but upgrading to fiber will future-proof the network and provide better Internet speeds. The coop is based out of Lawton, a small town of about 1,000 people, but the coop serves an area of 700 miles. Wiatel hopes to start burying the fiber cables in the summer of 2016. Once the project gets started, officials from the cooperative estimate they will connect all residential and business customers to fiber within 24-30 months.

Wiatel is part of a long-growing movement as rural coops build fiber networks or upgrade to fiber to improve services for members. Just check out the Triangle Communications coop in Montana, the Paul Bunyan Communications coop in Minnesota, or Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative in Alabama. They’re providing next-generation connectivity at reasonable prices to rural communities often ignored by the large incumbent telephone and cable companies.

Coops: An Alternative

Without an immediate return on investment, large corporate providers have little incentive to build in sparsely populated areas. Traditional corporate providers must answer to shareholders seeking short term profits. Cooperatives are owned by the people they serve, giving their shareholders a practical, real, tangible interest in the success of the endeavor and the community it serves.

High-speed Internet can prove a great benefit to rural communities. Many of these rural areas lack access to the healthcare resources available in urban areas but local clinics with high-speed connectivity can bridge that gap. Rural schools need faster, more affordable, more reliable connections. High-speed Internet is becoming essential for farming, which has become a high-tech industry over the past few decades. 

Being overlooked by large profit-oriented companies is nothing new for rural communities. One need only look at the history of the telephone or electricity. Large private sector telephone and electric providers thought that rural areas could not offer the density for a solid customer base, and residents’ need for cutting-edge technology went unrecognized. To serve their own needs, neighbors banded together, obtained grants and loans from the federal government’s Rural Electrification Administration, and built the infrastructure that guaranteed the survival and growth of their rural communities.

“…for many, many years to come”

The coops now moving toward fiber technology are considering the long-term prospects of the community. As the Wiatel General Manager Heath Mallory explained:

“Once we get the fiber in the ground, I really think this network will probably serve our customers for many, many years to come.” 

The community is definitely excited for the new fiber. On the local news, reporter Elisa Raffa explains the positive impact the network will have on local businesses and residents:

Decorah and Vinton Voters Choose Munis for Better Connectivity in the Corn Belt

Colorado may have been the epicenter of local authority disruption this election cycle but two Iowa elections were also worth exploring.

Decorah Chooses Muni Authority

In Decorah, the community of 8,000 received awards for its innovative use of the city's dark fiber network, MetroNet. A community led effort, Decorah FastFiber, convinced community leaders to ask voters if they want to expand the use of that fiber. Voters decided 1,289 to 95 to give the city the authority to establish a municipal telecommunications network.

Decorah's ballot question specifically asked if that authority should extend to video, voice, telephone, data, and all other forms of telecommunications and cable communications, reports the News. A second ballot question, which passed with similar results, asked voters to authorize the city to establish a Board of Trustees for the utility.

Vinton Trusts Its Electric Utility

Vinton, home to approximately 5,200 people, voted overwhelmingly to form a telecommunication utility. The community, located northwest of Cedar Rapids, voted 792 to 104 to put the community's municipal electric utility in charge of the initiative. This matter had been voted on twice previously - in  both cases the community had voted against the proposition. 

A comparatively large number of communities in Iowa have invested in their own Internet networks but Mediacom and other providers like CenturyLink have fought hard to prevent municipalities from passing the necessary referendum to build a network. This year, we had no reports of opposition from incumbent operators, a remarkable change that frankly leaves us puzzled but hopeful nonetheless. 

Congrats to both Decorah and Vinton for reclaiming digital self-determiniation. We don't know if either one has immediate plans to build a network or what model they may use but now they have full authority to explore all options.