Over the next year, fiber optic experts from Farr Technologies will be leading a local feasibility study, determining how much it would cost to build fiber optic lines for the purpose of providing telephone, high-speed internet and cable TV options to each Vinton resident.

In Novemer of 2015, Vinton voters approved establishing a Telecom Utility, by a margin of 793 to 104.

Since then, members of iVinton and others have been studying the issue, visiting communities where fiber optic systems are in place and searching for a company to lead the feasibility study.

Farr Technologies of Sioux Falls, S.D., has worked with many of the Iowa communities that recently installed fiber optic service, says Kurt Karr, one of the iVinton members who has been working on the telecom issue.

“They have a lot of experience in working with small towns near us,” says Karr. He and other iVinton members have been meeting with leaders from many other communities, including area towns and those that have used such technology the longest. Spencer, Harlan and Cedar Falls are among Iowa communities that first installed fiber optic telecom utilities.

The Vinton City Council approved paying up to $30,000 for Farr Technologies to conduct the study, which will cost up to $60,000. The Vinton Municipal Electrical Utility (VMEU) will cover the other half.

While there may be a time when residents are asked to participate in a survey, most of the work will go on behind-the-scenes, as the experts determine the cost of hooking up every residence in Vinton to a fiber optics system.

The rough estimate for a fiber optic network is $3,000 to $4,000 per household; with roughly 2,000 homes in Vinton that total could be as much as $6-8 million. That includes connecting each home or apartment with cable, as well as connecting the city to a hub that provides the technology.

While the initial cost is one of the main barriers keeping some communities from creating their own networks, Karr said there has not been a failure of a locally-owned telecom utility in Iowa. Vinton is surrounded by cities that have implemented such systems. La Porte City has a system that reaches into rural Mount Auburn. Independence has had a telecom utility for several years. Members of the iVinton group have been in contact with many leaders in nearby communities with successful telecom utilities. It’s possible, says Karr, that Vinton could partner with one of those communities for parts of the project.

The local cables will connect to a node that is connected to a service line from a large provider that buys bandwith in bulk. Most communities have a back-up trunk line to ensure continuity of service if a problem develops with the main line.

Evaluating interest

The study will also seek to determine how many local residents would become customers of a local utility, and which services they would be interested in purchasing.

Most telecom utilities offer a variety of phone, internet and cable TV packages, with a variety of internet speeds, cable TV options and phone plans.

Karr praised the City Council and VMEU for their interest in pursuing the project.

“It speaks very highly of VMEU and the city,” he said. “VMEU, to their credit, was willing to pay the entire cost, but asked the city to participate. And the council has been extremely supportive and interested.”

During Thursday’s council meeting, Mayor John Watson said that in his mind, there is no difference in whether the funds come from the city of Vinton or VMEU.

The study will take an expected year to complete, says Karr. By then, iVinton leaders should have some clear ideas of what the project would cost, with whom Vinton could partner, and how many local residents would sign up for service. Actually completing a system would take approximately two more years.