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FD voters say yes to broadband utility

Fort Dodge voters fed up with poor internet service overwhelmingly gave their approval to the possibility of a municipal broadband utility on Tuesday.

A referendum question asking if the city government should have the power to establish such a utility was approved by a 71.6 percent margin, according to unofficial election results posted by Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate.

The measure needed to pass by a simple majority for the city government to receive that authority.

The measure received 1,722 yes votes, according to those unofficial election results.

The measure received 683 no votes, which was 28.4 percent of the total, according to unofficial election results.

“It definitely paints a picture that our community is frustrated with its access to broadband,” Mayor Matt Bemrich said Tuesday night. “That tells you that people are frustrated with their current service. They went to the polls tonight and made their feelings known.”

Bemrich said the referendum results give the City Council the direction it needs to continue the process of exploring a broadband utility. The next steps, he said, will be figuring out the way to build a utility, identifying the number of potential users and estimating the revenue it would generate.

During Tuesday’s balloting, voters were asked to vote yes or no on this question: “Shall the city of Fort Dodge, in Webster County, Iowa, establish a municipal telecommunications utility (including the potential provision of video, voice, data and all other forms of telecommunications and cable communications services) for the city?”

The 71.6 percent yes vote does not require the city to build such a utility, and it’s possible the local government will never be in the broadband business.

But if it does get into the broadband business, property taxes and local option sales tax money will not be used. City Manager David Fierke has said repeatedly that the utility would be funded with revenues from fees charged for services.

Bemrich has said broadband utility money would be reinvested in Fort Dodge rather than dispersed to investors elsewhere.

The City Council began looking into the potential of a broadband utility in June. SmartSource Consulting, in Grimes, was hired to advise the council on the issue and has a $22,500 contract.