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Connecting the city

FD council leans toward full municipal broadband

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Cables filling a computer set in Fort Dodge could someday be connected to a municipally-owned broadband utility. Voters approved the possibility in November 2019, and the City Council is moving forward with plans.

In the effort to provide better broadband service to Fort Dodge, local control is essential, in the view of City Council members.

Empowered by the voters to potentially create a new broadband utility, the elected officials are directing the city staff to move toward such a system that would be wholly-owned and operated by the local government rather than one run in some kind of partnership with a private company.

”I have always said municipality,” Councilman Andy Fritz said Monday night during a workshop discussion on broadband. ”It is 100 percent about control.”

Mayor Matt Bemrich and the rest of the council — Kim Alstott, Neven Conrad, Dave Flattery, Jeff Halter, Terry Moehnke and Lydia Schuur — all said they also want a fully municipally owned utility.

City Manager David Fierke was directed to work with the city staff and consulting firms advising the city to prepare plans for such a broadband setup.

About 140 miles of conduit and fiber optic lines will be required to establish the utility, according to a report to the council from Howard R. Green Co., of Cedar Rapids.

The consulting firm estimated that it would cost $27 million to build that network. Although the source of that money was not discussed Monday, officials have previously said that that money would be borrowed and that debt would be paid off with revenue from the utility.

The consulting firm estimated monthly broadband fees for those using the service at $70 to $90 a month, depending on the internet speed the customer opted for.

About 43 percent of Fort Dodge households would sign up for the service, the company estimated.

Halter had previously expressed concern that the fiber optic network the city is considering could be rapidly outdated. He noted that he can use his phone as a 5G hotspot. But after speaking with the consultants advising the city on the project, Halter said Monday evening that he’s now much less concerned about that.

”I know that fiber itself is essential,” he said. ”I feel much better about it.”

Fort Dodge voters approved the concept of a municipal broadband utility in November 2019.

Broadband is a high capacity transmission technique over the internet that enables a large number of messages to be sent at the same time. the federal Communication Commission defines broadband as having a download speed of 25 megabits per second and an upload speed of 3 megabits per second.

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