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Emmetsburg, Iowa, on its Way to Community Owned Fiber Network

| Written by Lisa Gonzalez | No Comments | Updated on Apr 10, 2013 The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at https://ilsr.org/emmetsburg-iowa-on-its-way-to-community-owned-fiber-network/

Flash back to May 5, 1998 and the community of Emmetsburg, Iowa. This town of just under 4,000 people voted to establish a municipal cable communications or television system. It has taken fifteen years, but Emmetsburg is on the verge of joining the many other Iowa communities with municipal networks. Jane Whitmore of the Emmetsburg News reported on April 2 that the City Council adopted Ordinance #577, establishing the Board of Trustees of the Emmetsburg Municipal Communications Utility.

Emmetsburg will be joining four other local communities as part of The Community Agency (TCA), a coalition of cities in northwest Iowa that collectively own a hybrid fiber coaxial cable network. TCA began as a cable television system in 2000 and now offers Internet, telephone, and limited wireless Internet in O’Brien County. Emmetsburg will build a FTTH network as part of TCA.

Talks to join TCA began last summer; City Administrator John Bird commented for the article:

“It’s important for our readers to know that when the Board (of Trustees) started talking about this late last summer, their reasons for wanting to get into this (communications utility) are noble. Their goals, their objectives are noble from an industrial and economic development standpoint,” Bird noted.

He continued, “They believe that we’re at a gross disadvantage, considering today’s global economy. In the global market, people can work from their home in Emmetsburg, Iowa, for a corporation located anywhere in the world, or higher tech industries who really need quality, high speed broadband. We’re at a disadvantage.”

DJ Weber, General Manager of TCA, noted the lack of interest from the incumbents to invest in the area. He also commented on how the existence of municipal networks often lower rates and improve service for all customers due to increased competition.

Emmetsburg currently provides sewer, water, and gas to residents. The network will be financed with municipal revenue bonds, but the other utilities will also contribute some revenue toward it as each will benefit from benefits such as remote meter reading.

A 1998 study on a potential communications system priced the network at $10 million. According to Bird, today’s estimate is less than $7 million. From the article:

“It comes back to the commitment of the community,” added Weber. “We’ve said this all along to John [Bird], the council and the utility board and the staff, it really comes back, ultimately, to the citizens of this community.”