Peoples official has concerns with KwiKom fiber-optic plan

Updated: Jan 5

LA CYGNE – A presentation last week by KwiKom Communications to the Linn County Commission drew a concerned response from an official with a La Cygne-based phone and Internet service.

Peoples Telecommunication LLC General Manager Jennifer Johnson-Leach expressed her concerns about KwiKom’s plan on how they could bring fiber-optic Internet service to the west side of the county.

In a presentation to commissioners on Oct. 25, Operations Manager Eric Vogel with the Iola-based KwiKom said the company had plans to bring fiber-optic cable from Greeley east to Parker and then south to Centerville and Blue Mound.

However, the company representative said it had no plans to run fiber-optic cable out into the countryside and would instead use its current wireless system using towers.

One of the drawbacks to wireless is that, with current technology, it requires a line-of-sight connection. That could be difficult in the often difficult terrain in western Linn County with trees and hills that would block rural homesteads from receiving Internet signals without building antennas.

Buried fiber-optic cable, on the other hand, is run directly to the structure where it is intended to be used. The drawback to cable is the cost, which runs between $20,000 to $24,000 per mile for Peoples to bury the cable 24- to 30-inches deep. The cost is higher if crews run into rock, Johnson-Leach said.

A key issue in the KwiKom vs. Peoples proposals is which company will get financial help from Linn County. The county will receive $1.9 million from federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds over the course of two years. It has already received about $900,000 of those funds.

Providing broadband to rural areas is one of the focal points of ARPA funding.

KwiKom’s Vogel said the cost to bring fiber-optic cable to Parker and on south to Blue Mound would be about $800,000. About $500,000 would be provided by other funds from the company, but KwiKom would need another $300,000 from the county to complete the project.

Peoples has indicated that it would also need county funding to reach the rural areas in western Linn County, but it hasn’t specified how much.

Johnson-Leach said that Peoples was already within two miles of Parker and it would not be that hard to get there while KwiKom was going to have to bring the service from Greeley to Parker.

In the process of building the fiber-optic line to the location near Parker, Peoples has picked up houses along the way, and they would do the same when they moved on to Parker. She said that they would be picking up houses along the route and over time “spider out” from there to pick up houses along country roads.

She said that her company took this expansion as a moral responsibility to get broadband service to the west side of Linn County, not a moneymaker. Peoples believes that they are investing back into the community, she said.

Johnson-Leach said that Peoples pays property tax to Linn County and that KwiKom does not. Linn County Treasurer Janet Kleweno on Monday confirmed that currently KwiKom does not pay county taxes.

Peoples Telecommunication has been in the county for over 100 years and has contributed a lot to the community and local projects, said Johnson-Leach.

She said that Peoples had demonstrated that they had good service and that the company has shown that they do it right when installing lines that will last into the future.

Peoples has been in discussions with the county about their proposal, but until county officials decide how much of the $1.9 million in ARPA will be spent on providing broadband to the western portion of the county, it cannot provide a concrete plan of what it can do, she said.

Johnson-Leach also said that, in talking with Craw-Kan General Manager Craig Wilbert, she believes that Craw-Kan already has fiber optic to the bank at Blue Mound and five hand holes to connect out from.

A Craw-Kan representative Zach Adams confirmed on Monday that it did run a fiber-optic cable to the Farmers State Bank from Colony. However, he said that the cable was too small to serve the rest of the Blue Mound community. He also indicated that Craw-Kan was not looking to expand service to that community.

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