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FD voters may weigh in on broadband utility

Potential ballot question would seek approval for new municipal utility

Candidates for City Council and school board seats may not be the only things Fort Dodge voters will see on the ballot in November.

Voters may also see a referendum question asking them if the Fort Dodge city government should be authorized to establish a telecommunications utility.

Such a utility would be responsible for bringing faster and higher quality broadband service to the city.

”We believe there’s an opportunity to provide a high quality, reliable broadband system,” Mayor Matt Bemrich said.

The City Council will consider calling for the referendum vote when it meets Monday at the Municipal Building, 819 First Ave. S.

Broadband is a high capacity transmission technique over the internet which enables a number of messages to be transmitted at the same time. The Federal Communications Commission defines broadband as having a download speed of 25 megabits per second and an upload speed of three megabits per second.

City officials have been considering possible ways to bring better broadband service to Fort Dodge for a few months. In June, the council hired SmartSource Consulting, of Grimes, to provide data and cost estimates. The company, which is being paid $22,500, will submit a final report next month.

But representatives of that company will provide an initial report to the council during a workshop at 5:30 p.m. Monday in the Municipal Building.

Although city officials don’t have the final report yet, there is some interest in getting the referendum question on the November ballot in order to avoid having to call a special election later. A special election could cost $15,000, according to City Manager David Fierke.

”That’s why we’re kind of expediting the referendum,” he said.

Fierke said that under Iowa law, a municipal telecommunications utility must be approved by the voters. He said the proposed utility would have to be approved by a simple majority of those voting.

Passage of the ballot measure would not automatically mean Fort Dodge will have a municipal telecommunications utility. Fierke said voters in 70 Iowa communities have approved such a referendum, but so far less than 30 of them have established a utility.

Fierke said there are three approaches the local government can take to bring better broadband service to Fort Dodge.

The first of those, he said, is to work in partnership with an internet provider that already has a presence in Fort Dodge.

Recruiting another company to come into Fort Dodge to provide the desired service upgrade would be the second possible approach.

Having the city government establish a telecommunications utility would be the third approach.

FD council to have workshops, business meeting

The Fort Dodge City Council will meet Monday in the Municipal Building, 819 First Ave. S.

At 5 p.m., the council will have a workshop on residential street reconstruction.

At 5:30 p.m., there will be a workshop on the ongoing broadband pre-feasibility study being conducted by SmartSource Consulting, of Grimes.

The council’s regular business meeting will begin at 6 p.m. During that meeting, the elected officials will consider awarding a landscape and pond contract for Oleson Park.

The council will also consider calling for a referendum vote on the possibility of establishing a municipal telecommunications utility.

Also on the agenda is a measure to purchase a bridge to replace a damaged one on the Fort Dodge Nature Trail.

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