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Iowa Update — Pella Finances, Vinton Goes Live, Fort Dodge Studies, and 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:
Charles City, Iowa, RFP : Responses Due May 5th
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.
Preliminary Study Puts Charles City Back on Track to Digital Self-Determinism
Local officials in Charles City, a town of 7,500 in northeastern Iowa, approved a preliminary study of community broadband interest late last month. The study will determine whether additional funds should be allocated toward a more comprehensive study. This announcement comes on the heels of increased regional interest in the Iowa Fiber Alliance, a proposed multi-community fiber ring.
The preliminary study will cost the city $18,500 and should be completed before the end of the summer. The Community Broadband Engagement and Education Project seeks to engage key community stakeholders, educate the public on high-speed community networks, and ultimately measure the interest of local residents, businesses, and government leadership.
Third Time’s the Charm
Local interest in community networks has peaked twice in the past decade. In 2005, Charles City residents approved a referendum to create a telecommunication utility with a 62 percent majority. Under threat of losing revenues to a community network, incumbent Internet service providers (ISPs) promised local officials that they would improve the network. Stopgap measures from Mediacom and CenturyLink marginally improved local connectivity in the short-term, but Charles City residents soon realized that they hadn’t escaped the letdowns of the telecom octopus.