Broadband group will recommend study firm


Metro Image Library
Metro Image Library

By Bob Steenson,

Three groups made pitches to the Charles City Broadband Commission Thursday evening, each offering its own view of what would be most important in a study on the feasibility of a city fiber optic network.

The commission had solicited bid proposals on a feasibility study of a municipal broadband internet utility after a public survey earlier this year showed wide support.

Three firms were heard from Thursday via video conference — Lookout Point Communications/NewCom, Finley/CCG and FARR Technologies.

The broadband commission tentatively plans to meet Monday afternoon, May 22, to make a decision on a recommendation that could be presented to the Charles City Council later that evening.

The council meeting Monday is a work session, however, and the council could not take action on a recommendation until its regular meeting June 5.

A couple of the firms mentioned during their proposals Thursday the option of either running fiber lines on existing poles or burying lines.

Several of the people at the meeting quickly responded that they favored burying lines, especially after recent storms showed the potential for lines on poles to be damaged by wind and falling trees.

“I’m really going to push that we do it in the ground,” said Joshua Mack, a commission member and the NIACC chief information officer.

All three companies made a case for their experience dealing with municipalities and other groups considering broadband utilities. All three promised to provide a study that would provide both positive and negative information about the possibility of a fiber optic system in Charles City.

And all three promised to stick with the city through the entire process if a decision is made to proceed, from design to financing.

Each of the companies also emphasized the quality of its work, saying that its study would provide the most accurate facts and figures on which to base a decision whether to proceed with a fiber network.

A couple of the companies’ executives made the case that while cities often fund such a system through revenue bonds — paid back through the fees paid by users — a general obligation bond could be cheaper and easier to make happen, although that likely also would require passage in a public referendum.

One possibility that was discussed was partnering with other communities to share some of the infrastructure costs. For example, the “head end” that would be necessary if video channels would be offered is expensive, but could easily be shared.

Some cities that have internet utilities already have some of the equipment.

Steve Diers, Charles City city administrator, said he has been approached by Osage about the idea of partnering on a regional basis. Other communities that could be part of a partnership include Decorah, New Hampton, Waverly and Cedar Falls.

“I think that’s going to be a core piece of us being able to do this,” Diers said. “Maybe that’s how this whole fiber alliance takes shape, by those four or five communities becoming a group.”