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Broadband Commission will recommend moving forward

By Kelly Terpstra,

Now it’s up to the City Council.

The Charles City Broadband Commission took a big next step this week in its quest to develop a fiber-to-the-home system that could be available to businesses and residents in the community.

The overall project has an estimated cost of $11.5 million and members of the commission agreed to recommend moving forward to allow Lookout Point Communications and NewCom Technologies to begin phase two of the project.

If approved by the City Council, that phase deals with the design and engineering of a system that would offer a triple-play package of internet, video (TV) and phone to those living within the city limits.

A resolution, 148-18, is listed on Monday’s city council agenda to consider approval of the agreement for the business plan/engineering phase for the fiber project.

There are four phases to the project. The first, a feasibility study, has been completed. The second phase deals with design and engineering and the third focuses on the actual construction or the “build phase.”

That third phase would comprise the bulk of the approximate cost of $11.5 million.

The final phase is the operational phase. That final piece to the puzzle could come as early as next spring or summer if all goes as planned.

“That’s where you light it up and you operate it,” said Charles City Administrator Steve Diers.

The design and engineering cost is estimated to be no more than $381,070. There is a cost of $75,000 by Lookout Point for network architecture and work scope. NewCom performs the design and engineering of the city’s fiber plant and the cost of that is $286,070, which is based on a per-foot cost.

Diers talked about moving on to phase two and the next step in what he has called a “highly technical process.”

“If we weren’t serious about doing this project, we wouldn’t be spending the $381,000,” said Diers. “Once that’s completed and those final numbers are realized, that will be the point of no return.”

Now the focus is on a request for information (RFI) that was sent out in early July that lists potential partners that Charles City could team up with to cut costs. There is also the issue of how much local control the commission wants at this stage in the process.

Potential suitors that could team up with Charles City that have been talked about are New Hampton Municipal Utilities, Cedar Falls Utilities, ImOn (Cedar Rapids), and CL Tel (Clear Lake Telephone), just to name a few of the 15 or so that responded to the RFI.

If the commission chooses to partner with another entity, it seems the commission could be zeroing in on a few targets.

“We’re looking at maybe two partners, maybe three,” said commission member Danny Wilson Jr.

Diers said the location of the data center or central office where the main feed from the fiber line is connected is currently a “moving target” and there has been no decisions made where that may be situated.

Commission member Josh Mack warned that wherever that may be there is no do-over in terms of relocating the facility.

“That’s a really important part. You’ll never be able to move it. You’ve got to make sure it’s right the first time. You don’t have a second chance,” said Mack, who is also NIACC’s chief information officer.

Commission member Jeff Marty said he thinks the system would be a great economic opportunity for Charles City.

“From an overall standpoint, if Charles City were to spend the money to do this, the city wants control,” said Marty. “We’re not just doing this to provide internet, TV and phone to the community. We’re doing this as economic development.”

Eric Lampland, owner and consultant for Lookout Point, stressed that in order to keep a timeline in line with his and the city’s plan, he will need to know relatively soon when surveying and mapping can be done to potentially lay down fiber.

“The outside plan survey has to be done when the ground is visible,” said Lampland.

“Hopefully both you and New Hampton are going to kickoff at about the same time. I’m hoping that will be relatively soon because I’m worried about the snow coming.”