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A Success Story in Indianola, Iowa- Episode 481 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast
On this week’s episode of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast, host Christopher Mitchell travels to Des Moines, Iowa for the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities Telecom Conference. He speaks with Kurt Ripperger, the Fiber Superintendent for the Indianola Municipal Utilities in Iowa.
The two talk about the journey of Indianola’s citywide fiber-to-the-home municipal network. While initially the municipal utility questioned whether or not there would be sufficient demand for such a network, today, it's hit its five-year business plan goals with a 45 percent take rate and counting.
This show is 20 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed.
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Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.
Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.
Indianola FTTH Business Plan Blasting Forward
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:
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 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.
Indianola Municipal Utilities to Offer Gig Service
Indianola Municipal Utilities (IMU) announced in a December 1st press release that they will be offering gigabit service in 2015. IMU will also be expanding their FTTH network to an additional 150 premises this winter in the central part of Indianola.
IMU's service partner, MCG, has established the Build My Neighborhood site, which allows Indianolans to inform IMU where they want to see service expanded to next.
IMU and several local partners, including MCG, recently began the IMU Partners Program. According to the press release, the program provides marketing opportunities, common use of network facilities, outreach to the community, and assistance with business development. Member businesses receive advertising on the IMU TV channel and streaming video site, access to outreach STEM events at local schools, and hosting for tech-related events.
Indianola Municipal Utilities use the network as a long term economic development tool, regularly cooperating with local partners to support entrepreneurs. In 2013, we shared the story of the Indianola + Simpson College Entrepreneurial Development Initiative (EMERGE). The college program relies on IMU for high capacity connectivity to support new high tech ventures. Simpson College and IMU have also developed an incubator to encourage high tech business growth through mentorship.
From the press release:
“Recent reports show that gigabit availability has become an important factor in economic growth, job creation, and property values” states IMU General Manager Todd Kielkopf. “Indianola’s technology investment in connectivity, collaborations, and content delivery is paying dividends”
The full press release is available below.
Indianola's Community Network Spurs Entrepreneurship
When Indianola decided to invest in a municipal fiber network, the decision was part of a larger economic development plan that included a startup incubator in partnership with Simpson College - which we wrote about earlier this year. Located near Des Moines in Iowa, Indianola is one of a few communities that has partnered with a local trusted provider, MCG in this case, that offers services over a publicly owned network.
According to Chris Draper, Director of Indianola + Simpson College Entrepreneurial Development Initiative (EMERGE), his program would not exist if the city did not decide to invest in economic development and municipal broadband as a package deal. Less than a year after launch, EMERGE has nine active startups, some of which are already seeing significant growth and seizing new opportunities. Collective Labor (collectivelabor.com) has created an online platform to facilitate collective bargaining negotiations.
By centralizing the process of calculating proposals and editing contract terms, Collective Labor decreases negotiation time, reduces errors and ultimately makes the negotiation process more efficient. In Iowa alone, Collective Labor believes it can save schools upwards of $35-million a year by streamlining their collective bargaining efforts, freeing up budgets to hire more teachers and improve schools.
Even more promising, the platform can handle all collective bargaining scenarios from teachers to municipal workers, and trade unions to public safety professionals. The demand for Collective Labor’s service is proving solid. Less than a year after launching (in February), Collective Labor has signed up five school districts and has thirteen contractor requests pending. In fact, Collective Labor President, David Gaus, just announced on Twitter that a Colorado firm has agreed to invest cash and expertise that will result in a new office and additional staff to support a nationwide expansion. Not bad for a startup that’s barely seven months old.
U.S. Representative Congratulates Iowa Community for Muni Network
Rep. Tom Latham (R-IA), recently recognized the city of Indianola on the US House Floor to recognize the community's municipal network. On February 15th, he spoke to the body about Indianola's recent certification as Connected by Connected Nation and Connected Iowa.
From his recognition speech, as reported on CapitolWords from the Sunlight Foundation:
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to recognize the City of Indianola, Iowa, for earning the Connected program's Connected certification. Indianola is the first community in the state of Iowa and the third in the country to garner this technology designation.
The Connected certification is a title applied to communities that display top-tier proficiency in the access and utilization of broadband-supported technologies. This coveted certification is awarded by Connected Nation and its subsidiary Connect Iowa, who advocate for broadband access on the state and national levels.
The City of Indianola is one of more than 30 communities across Iowa actively participating in the Connected program, and the first to become formally certified. Indianola has a team in place that has developed a comprehensive plan to increase broadband access by assessing the broadband landscape, identifying gaps, and establishing manageable goals. Attaining the Connected certification adds to the long list of desirable attributes that make Indianola such a great place to raise a family or grow a business.
Indianola City Owned Network Partners to Encourage Economic Development
“We want to grow our own new businesses in Indianola, and Simpson College is home to an entire group of potential entrepreneurs who we hope will find support for their efforts here and some day choose to locate their businesses here,” [Jerry Kelly, former Indianola mayor and executive director of the city's development association] said. ‘What we are doing is called ‘economic gardening.’ What grows here will stay here.”
Thanks to the Indianola Municipal Utilities (IMU) next-generation broadband network, the city and the college have fertile soil to nurture that garden. We previously wrote about this FTTH partnership here, explaining that the community owns the infrastructure and a local business provides services over the network.
The partnership between Simpson College, the Indianola Development Association, and IMU is called the Indianola + Simpson College Entrepeneurial Devopment Initiative. The student-business incubator will bring together students, mentors, and existing businesses with the hope that resulting entrepeneurships will sprout and grow in Indianola.
Through the partnership, the incubator will have access to IMU's server platforms, wholesale bandwidth, local marketing and outreach efforts, and customer service activities. 25 students will develop senior Capstone Projects through the initiative. College and city leaders anticipate that number will continue to grow.
The Simpson College News Center also writes that the project will be led by Chris Draper. Draper is associated with Des Moines' Startup City, a technology-based business incubator. Draper is CEO of the first graduate of Startup City, Meidh Tech, which offers property management technology solutions.
Indianola Partners for Blazing Connections in Iowa
We have covered developments in the town of Indianola, Iowa, where the community decided to build their own network in 1998. The original purpose for investment was to use the network to enhance public safety and increase efficiency with SCADA applications. In 2005, however, the network began offering telecommunications services to local businesses. As of October, Indianola Municipal Utilities (IMU) began offering fiber-to-the-home to residents as it gradually begins expanding the use of its fiber asset.
You can now hear firsthand about the network, its history, and how the municipal utility navigated the journey to its next-generation open access network. Craig Settles interviewed Todd Kielkopf, General Manager of IMU, in an August Gigabit Nation podcast. The two discuss IMU's evolution since 1998. They also talked about the unique advantages that exist when a community considering network infrastructure investment already has a municipal utility in place.
Kielkopf tells how the driving factor for the fiber installation was to allow easier management and communication between utilities. When a 1990 franchise agreement with MediaCom was about to expire, the city investigated options. Hopes were that that the city could build a fiber network and MediaCom would offer services over that network, but that vision was never embraced by MediaCom.
Iowa law allowed the city to hold a referendum asking residents for permission to provide telecommunications services through the municipal utility's network. The referendum passed and they created a five year financial plan. Financing was with taxable and tax exempt bonds. The electric utility would build and own the network and a new telecommunications utility would license to a private partner that would offer retail services. Now, IMU and Mahaska Communication Group (MCG) have an agreement whereby MCG provides retail services over the network. While the agreement is not exclusive, no other providers currently use the network.
Indianola's Fiber Optic Network To Soon Serve Residents
We told you earlier this year about Indianola, Iowa's network, filling the gap for businesses where private providers had failed. At that time, the network only served local businesses and community anchor institutions, but plans to provide fiber-to-the-home in their community of 15,000 are now unfolding. The town [no-glossary]passed[/no-glossary] a referendum back in 1998 to build a fiber ring which was used first by the local Indianola Municipal Utilities (IMU) for SCADA and for public safety. The goal was to expand incrementally. It later partnered with Mahaska Communications Group (MCG), located in Oskaloosa, Iowa, about 50 miles west of Indianola.
According to the IMU website, residential retail services will be available from MCG after October 1, 2012.
Monthly rates will include triple play at $99.95, double play packages between $49.95 and $94.95, and 25 Mbps symmetrical Internet at $39.95. Residents can upgrade to 50 Mbps for $5 extra or 100 Mbps for an additional $10.00. Home Wi-fi is only and additional $5.95 per month. For complete details, check out their rate sheet PDF.
The network also leases fiber that connects community anchor institutions to the Iowa Communications Network, which provides video to K-12 schools, higher education, hospitals, state and federal government, National Guard armories, and libraries. The network also connects to BroadNet Connect, which is the network used by Iowa Health Systems for telemedicine in rural Iowa.