Need for speed

Officials: proposed broadband would be fast, reliable

-Messenger photo illustration by Kelby Wingert

Fort Dodge residents could have an eye-popping internet download speed of 10 gigabits courtesy of a proposed broadband municipal utility.

Construction of that system could begin in 2022, according to officials.

In a process that began with a City Council strategic planning session about three years ago, planning for a utility that would provide residents and businesses with another option for internet service continues to advance.

“We are going to have a fast and reliable broadband system,” said City Manager David Fierke.

City voters gave the local government the authority to pursue such a system during a November 2019 referendum, with 71.6 percent of them voting yes.

What is proposed is a “full municipal fiber to the premises system,” said Ryan Maehl, the assistant to the city manager who is the project manager for the broadband initiative.

He said the fiber optic cables needed for the system would extend all the way to a home or business.

The system would cost $26 million to $35 million, depending on how many people sign up to get the service. Having large numbers of people sign up would drive up the cost, according to Maehl.

”If you sell more broadband, you need more fiber in the ground,” he said.

Officials hope to get a better grasp of how many potential customers there are during a pre-registration effort to be held this summer.

Studies completed so far have estimated that four out of every 10 households will sign up for the service. Fierke said that figure is a pretty conservative one that has been used in the financial modeling for the project.

Municipal broadband customers will have three options for download and upload speeds: 100 megabytes, 1 gigabit or 10 gigabits. The prices for those levels of service haven’t been determined yet.

“They will be very competitive to our marketplace,” Maehl said.

Revenue from whatever fees are eventually established will pay for the system. The plan is to borrow money in the form of revenue bonds and then pay off that debt with income generated by the system.

Currently, the consulting firm Howard R. Green Co., of Cedar Rapids, is doing what is called a mid-level design for the system. The design will show where cables would run and where the system’s nodes would be located. Maehl said the nodes would be metal boxes where the fiber optic cables would come in and be split in multiple directions.

Just how much fiber optic cable will be needed isn’t known yet but Fierke said it will be “a lot.”

The City Council still has a number of decisions to make to actually launch the new utility. If the council forges ahead, construction would start in the spring of 2022.


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