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Charles City Telecommunications Utility board of trustees holds first meeting

  • Charles City Telecommunications Utility Board member Danny Wilson Jr. (left) and Broadband Commission member Josh Mack attend the first ever utility board of trustees meeting on Tuesday. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra

  • The first ever Charles City Telecommunications Utility Board of Trustees meeting was held on Tuesday. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra

  • City Administrator Steve Diers (from left to right), telecom board members Lydia Johnson and Cheryl Erb, as well as City Attorney Brad Sloter and Mark Wicks attend the Charles City Telecommunications Utility Board of Trustees meeting on Tuesday. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra

  • Charles City Telecom Board member Dick Herbrechtsmeyer (from left to right), liaisons DeLaine Freeseman and Dean Andrews, as well as City Administrator Steve Diers attend the Charles City Telecommunications Utility Board of Trustees meeting on Monday. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra

By Kelly Terpstra,

The first meeting of the Charles City Telecommunications board of trustees was significant from the simple fact that the group was assembled on Tuesday.

Thus started the board’s effort to lay out the path to build a $15 million fiber-to-the-home broadband internet project.

“We’re there,” said City Administrator Steve Diers, in reference to reaching the milestone accomplishment.

In what was essentially an informational and introductory gathering, important developments regarding the creation of the municipal telecom were still discussed.

First and foremost, the group must retain legal counsel to represent the board before any official decisions are made.

“Before the board is going to take any action, we’re going to want to have that attorney in place,” said City Attorney Brad Sloter.

Depending on how recent developments regarding the purchase of property pan out, decisions could begin to be needed to be made at the next board meeting, tentatively scheduled for Jan. 14.

At a special meeting at the end of November, the City Council passed a resolution to approve a $2,000 option to purchase property at 808 North Main, currently the location of Cal’s Auto Repair. The city plans to use that property for the telecom’s “nerve center” and/or office headquarters.

The option is good for two months and possession of the property would take place in 90 days if that option is exercised. Diers said a phase 1 environmental study must first be conducted on site and could be completed before Christmas. If no issues are found in the study, Diers said the City Council could vote at a Jan. 6 meeting on whether to approve using the option to buy.

Once that is done, the business plan can then be finalized and the process to lay fiber in the ground can begin. Diers said he anticipates construction to take 18 months to completely build out and reach all premises that sign up for the service. Diers said the broadband utility – which does not have a name yet – could be offering up service a year from now.

“Once we get the go-ahead on that property – that’s been the lynchpin for probably six, seven months or longer. Once we say this is the place we’re going and we exercise that option, then all this really starts to open up because then we know where we’re going,” said Diers.

The possibility of remodeling one of the current buildings at 808 N. Main or building a new one at that site has been discussed, but there has been no consensus or decision by the board.

In the meantime, the board will have to hire an interim network engineer on the project that will oversee the design, startup and operation of the utility. Board members received a consulting agreement from Fuse Technic out of Cedar Falls last month.

Diers has been in discussions with independent contractor Ben Stineman about possibly filling that interim role. Stineman has helped Waverly, Indianola and Pella with their broadband projects.

The position would be hired for a term of one year with compensation to be $175 per hour, but not to exceed 40 billed hours within a month.

“Can that person be hired by the city or does that person need to be hired by the telecom?” asked Diers.

Diers said his preference was to have that position hired by the board.

Next month’s meeting could also focus on by-laws, creation of an employee handbook and other startup information.

One important decision the board will have to make is when to start its marketing campaign and release to the public the pricing for various combinations of high-speed internet, video (TV) and phone service. Diers said determining that rate schedule could be a top priority for the board in the next month or so.

“The biggest question we get from people is ‘how much are the packages going to cost?’” said board member Jeff Marty. “If you start putting those numbers out there, then people will start seeing that.”

The broadband system is expected to cost $13 million for the infrastructure to allow any property within the city limits to access the high-speed fiber. An additional $2 million will have to be borrowed up front to start and maintain operations until revenue begins coming in.

Diers said it is unclear what his role will be and what will be the role of others who have provided information and direction to the city Broadband Commission in getting to this point where the telecom board of trustees has been established.

“We’ll continue in that capacity until we’re told not to,” he said.

The appointment of liaisons could be made at the trustees meeting in January, according to several who attended Tuesday’s meeting.

“Part of the reason you do have your own board is so this doesn’t become a political group that the City Council is telling you what to do. They should not be doing that,” said Mayor Dean Andrews.