City eyes super-fast fiber plan

After Google began rolling out its Google Fiber internet service in 2010 to select cities, web users around the country have been salivating over the opportunities that access to an ultra-high-speed internet connection would provide.

Now the city of Holland is studying different options as it looks to roll out its own municipally-owned fiber offering to city and business residents through the Holland Board of Public Works (BPW) the entity that currently provides electrical and water service.

The city is including $25,000 in its 2017 budget to conduct engineering work on an estimated $1 million project to bring fiber internet to 8th Street in Downtown Holland. The city is also studying the possibility of someday offering service to every address within Holland.

Fiber optic cables send signal as pulses of light through thin strands of cable allowing data to travel at speeds much faster than is possible on traditional copper wires. Instead of speeds between 10 and 25 Mbps commonly provided by today’s broadband providers, a fiber internet connection is capable of providing speeds of over 1 Gbps, the equivalent of 1,000 Mbps.

The Holland BPW has actually owned a small network of fiber cables buried throughout the city for years. The cables were put in place to connect devices at the BPW’s different power generation and water facilities. Now officials are looking at options to greatly expand the system and allow residential customers and businesses to buy internet service directly from the BPW, meaning the agency would become an ISP or Internet Service Provider.

Some argue that, in order for cities like Holland to remain competitive, it must find ways to offer high-speed connections to both residents and business.

“My personal goal is to have every address in Holland wired with gigabit internet service,” said Brain Burch a city of Holland Councilmen and proponent of the plan. “Today information, and access to that information, is required to ensure we produce the highly educated workforce that will transform the next generation of business.”

The cost to roll out service throughout the city would be steep, however, estimated at around $30 million. That is why the city plans to start small by rolling out service to around 130 potential downtown customers.

Burch noted that the cost of a larger network could be paid for by customers as the city slowly expanded its service area overtime, drawing customers away from traditional internet providers like Comcast and AT&T whose offerings are much slower but priced similarly to the proposed $80 per month residential service rate.

“My primary goal is to see a large number of buyers help build the fiber service over time,” Burch said.

Those interested in trialing faster connection speeds can currently do so at two downtown locations. Starting in February 2016 both Lemonjello’s and Butch’s launched free trial Wi-Fi hotspots to test the new BPW offering.

According to Jeff Pestun, Associate Director of Computing and Information Technology (CIT), the BPW’s fiber Internet plans could someday benefit Hope students who live in on-campus cottages and apartments that currently rely on a Comcast connection for their internet.

“Should the Holland Board of Public Works (BPW) become an end-to-end provider of reliable, cost-effective Internet service ,they would indeed be considered for use by the College,” Pestun said.

Pestun noted, however, even without the BPW plan, Hope has already been able to obtain a faster Internet connection for academic buildings and dorms connected to Hope’s main campus network.

“For many years a lack of market competition for ‘enterprisegrade Internet’ in Holland hindered Hope’s ability to purchase those services,” said Pestun. “Capability was in limited supply and as such the cost was very high. The past year has seen an influx of new options such that the College today can provide four times the Internet capacity that it did just eight months prior with no increase in spending.”

No matter how you slice it, the future looks fast for Holland internet users.

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