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Telecommunications Utility Board chips away at start-up requirements

By Kelly Terpstra,

Retainers, service agreements and contracts amount to a lot of paperwork, but are a necessary part of starting a $15 million fiber-to-the-home broadband project for Charles City.

The Charles City Telecommunications Utility Board made significant progress in its first meeting of the New Year on Tuesday in terms of what needs to be done before a business plan can be implemented, ground broken and fiber begun to be laid.

Erik Lampland with Lookout Point Communications, along with NewCom Technologies, are working on the design and engineering phase of the project. But they need to know the location of the data center headquarters before they can map out the fiber network.

“The next deliverable that you really need is the final business plan, and we have a few things outstanding to be able to get there,” said Lampland.

City Administrator Steve Diers said after the meeting that he was directed by the five-member board, while in closed session, to continue to research property for the data center.

At a special meeting at the end of November, the City Council had passed a resolution to approve a $2,000 option to purchase property at 808 North Main, currently the location of Cal’s Auto Repair, as a likely location for the data 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.

“Each step is another step forward,” said Diers.

Lampland gave an update on the status of the outside plant work to map out where the fiber needs to sit underground. Charles City will be part of a multi-community redundant loop that will stretch fiber to an area near Mason City that will hook up with Cedar Falls, Waverly and New Hampton.

Lampland said the determination of where the transport networks are situated was hampered by inclement weather near Mason City.

“We were proceeding along just fine and then we got snowed out so we can’t find the ground that we need to find. Some of that is going to have to wait until we get some spring melt,” said Lampland.

Lampland said the utility board will also have to iron out the details on the connection headed east to New Hampton, Waverly and Cedar Falls. Cedar Falls Utilities (CFU) is the planned provider on the video/TV side of the triple-play package Charles City Telecommunications Utility will offer. ImOn, of Cedar Rapids, would be contracted for phone service.

Lampland said MidAmerican Energy is planning to drive a fiber connection from Charles City to Mason City and a possible co-build partnership could save a significant amount of money for Charles City. Lampland said the amount of rock near the area that needs to be excavated can make the job in that location more expensive than normal.

Diers said he anticipates construction to take 18 months to completely build out and reach all locations in the city that sign up for any or all of the optional services. Diers said the broadband utility – which does not have a name yet – could be offering service to some locations a year from now.

The board unanimously approved a written contract to work with independent network engineer Ben Stineman of Fuse Technic. He will help oversee the design, startup and operation of the utility in an interim capacity.

Stineman has helped Waverly, Indianola and Pella with their broadband projects.

He was hired for one year ending Dec. 31, 2020, with compensation of $175 per hour, not to exceed 40 billed hours per month.

In other action:

• All board members voted to approve a retainer agreement to be worked up by Dorsey and Whitney to provide general legal counsel and bond attorney work for Charles City Telecommunications Utility. The board could vote on finalizing that contract at its next meeting.

• The board instructed consultants Todd Kielkopf and Curtis Dean to work up individual agreements that can also be voted on at the next meeting, which will take place at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 28.