Updated: Jun 24
MOUND CITY – The Linn County Commissioners on Monday, May 16, heard the final presentations of the two Internet companies vying for American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to install fiber-optic cable
on the west side of Linn County. After the meeting with the companies, commissioners agreed to make their decision within three weeks.
Peoples Telecommunications General Manager Jennifer Leach told the commissioners that she had gone door-to-door in Parker and had sent home flyers with Parker Elementary School students to see how many people would be interested in receiving broadband service. Twenty-one people responded.
She said that a few people had Starlink in Parker and that some older residents were happy using the CenturyLink DSL service.
From this, she concluded that both Peoples Telecommunications and KwiKom Communications numbers were incorrect.
She said it would not change what it costs to send the main cable to Parker, but she can adjust what the drops and the amount of splicing and electronics will be.
She said that Peoples can reduce its bid to $206,000 for the mainline and to hook up the few residents that were interested. But she said that her research had showed that there were as many people outside of Parker that wanted broadband as in Parker.
Leach said that she could put a per cent on that money but it might work better if the commission would give Peoples an idea of the amount of money they were interested in spending on Parker and some rural residences and than she could tell the county what they could do with that amount of money.
Leach said she did not know what Linn County’s budget was for broadband, but Peoples would be willing to connect with rural customers for the amount of money the commissioners would want to spend on that.
She said that Peoples was burying their fiber but questioned whether that was the case with KwiKom. Later in the meeting, KwiKom Operations Manager Eric Vogel said his company would be burying all of the fiber except at Blue Mound.
Because Blue Mound owns all of its utility poles and does not want any more buried cable, KwiKom would be putting the broadband fiber on those poles, said Vogel.
Leach said she had checked with the City of Parker and was told that there were 132 water meters, in Blue Mound there were 140 water meters, Centerville had 40 sewer lines (but some were not connected to anything), and there were eight people at Goodrich.
Commissioner Rick James asked Leach to clarify that Peoples was only going to Parker. Leach said that was correct. She said the most interest they got back was from the people in the rural areas outside of the city.
Leach said that even if Peoples was cut totally out of the proposal to Parker, her company would still like some funding to take fiber to residents in the rural area.
A Peoples representative, Jim McAtee, said that $206,000 would put the main line through Parker, so if someone wants service later it is there. Leach said during that process, Peoples would pick up all the people in the rural area from the tower they put in.
Leach’s mention of Starlink brought up a previous discussion that the commissioners had about purchasing Starlink’s initial service setup which runs about $600 for residents.
Vogel pointed out that both Peoples and KwiKom offer much lower monthly packages than Starlink. Starlink recently raised its monthly fee from $90 to $110.
Vogel told the commissioners that building the infrastructure backbone along the west side would encourage development and he was excited that Linn County was looking to invest in broadband.
He said that when the new funding for fiber-to-farm came down in the future, the infrastructure would be there for it.
County Counselor Gary Thompson said that a philosophical way of looking at this issue was did the county want to provide funding to build infrastructure or connect homes. Infrastructure is permanent, he added.
A resident who received $600 to hook up to StarLink might move, might be unhappy with the service or the service might go away.
Vogel said that KwiKom did not have the customer commit to a contract and the initial hookup fee was $75. But that once they got fiber-optic in a city, they usually offered a 30-day promotion to waive the installation costs.
Leach told the commissioners that Peoples did require a two-year contract with the customer.
Leach asked how long the county had to get this done. Economic Development Director Jessica Hightower said the money had to be allocated in two years, but the project did not have to be completed until 2026.
Vogel said that KwiKom’s plan was to have the project completed in two years.
In a meeting two weeks ago, KwiKom indicated that being able to serve Parker was central to that company’s proposal. However, on Monday Vogel said that even if the county did not provide funds to hook up Parker residents, KwiKom still planned on bringing fiber to that city from Greeley.
However, he also said that eliminating hooking up Parker from the proposal would not drop the company’s 50 per cent request for $558,000 to bring fiber to the west side of the county because it was still bringing fiber cable from Greeley to Parker.
Vogel also said that KwiKom did not want to come in and seem like it was trying to get as much money out of the county as possible.
We are not doing this as a negotiation tactic, he said. If the county gave KwiKom that dollar figure and told us to do Centerville and Blue Mound, we would probably do Parker anyway because KwiKom wants those subscribers. We just have to be sustainable.
Leach said that it was up to the commissioners and she would be interested in a proposal for funds to connect some of the rural area outside of Parker.