The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every area of our lives. And it is impacting operations and policies of many Iowa municipal broadband providers.
Several municipal broadband providers are limiting public access to their customer service centers to protect their employees and the public from the spread of the virus. Cedar Falls Utilities for example will still have customer service personnel available to answer questions, handle billing questions and taking payments electronically, etc. during normal business hours. But customers will not be able to enter their customer service center.
“In the interest of the safety and well-being of our customers and staff, we are closing our office to the public and asking certain employees to work from home,” said CFU General Manager Steve Bernard. “As COVID-19 continues to spread across the country, we feel compelled to practice social distancing and do our part to slow transmission.” - CFU General Manager Steve Bernard (news release on CFU website)
Closing the office to walk-in traffic is one of the most common responses to COVID-19. And email request and a quick review of websites show that Waverly Utilities, the City of Bellevue, Alta Municipal Utilities, Osage Municipal Utilities, Spencer Municipal Utilities, Indianola Municipal Utilities, Algona Municipal Utilities, Harlan Municipal Utilities, Muscatine Power & Water, and likely others are restricting public access to their facilities.
The virus is also limiting or ending technician visits to customers' homes or businesses. Most Iowa municipals have cancelled or rescheduled service calls for new service. Work that can be done outside the home or business without direct contact with customers continues, for the most part, to continue as normal.
Across the industry, most broadband providers have adjusted policies and hours to comply with advisories from public health officials. And in recognition of the needs of customers who may be isolated in their homes for weeks or longer, some providers have taken additional steps, such as removing data caps, increasing speeds temporarily, or suspending non-pay disconnections.
The COVID-19 outbreak is also claiming the CBAN Summit as its victim. The Summit, which was scheduled for Monday, March 16th at the Holiday Inn Des Moines Airport is cancelled to protect the health of the attendees and speakers who were planning to attend.
We will be working on possible dates to reschedule the Summit, but with the COVID-19 outbreak it may be some time before health officials recommend the resumption of normal gatherings.
CBAN is also going to work on converting some of the workshop sessions into webinars, which will of course be offered free to CBAN members. Be watching your email and Broadband Bytes for information on those topics and dates!
It is with deep regret to inform you that the IAMU Broadband Conference on March 17th and 18th will not be taking place as scheduled.
From Troy DeJoode, IAMU Executive Director:
Just a few days ago we were confident that we could still continue with the events in light of the COVID-19 virus by taking precautions and encouraging attendees to practice due diligence. Since then the virus has accelerated and so too have precautionary measures by event organizers as small as IAMU and as large as the NCAA and NBA.
For the IAMU Broadband Conference, IAMU has waived its normal cancellation policy. Exhibitors and attendees can request a full refund by emailing Jamie at IAMU, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Conference sponsors (Presenting Sponsor, Gold Sponsors, Silver Sponsors, Break Sponsors, and Breakfast Sponsors) may seek a refund also. However, if you would like to guarantee your sponsorship for the rescheduled conference IAMU will retain your payment and apply it toward the rescheduled dates. If sponsors would like to keep their sponsorship slot, email email@example.com. If the conference is rescheduled for dates that sponsors cannot attend we can process a refund at that time.
If you have already reserved a room at the Holiday Inn Des Moines Airport, please contact them directly to cancel those reservations at 515-287-2400.
To all our attendees, we're so sorry we have to make this move. We feel it is important that we all do our part to help contain this pandemic. We also do NOT want to put on a conference that is substandard because of canceled workshop sessions and a sparse vendor show.
Over the next few days and weeks, we will be working on identifying possible dates to reschedule the conference, probably during the fall or early winter months. That will take some careful planning and a review of all the other events that we know compete for your time and attention.
Add Fort Dodge to the growing list of Iowa communities that are taking a serious look at building their own fiber-to-the-home network.
This week the City is issuing an RFP for qualified firms to conduct a feasibility study, including a preliminary design, cost estimate, and business plan, for a municipal network. The City has been researching fiber since last summer. A pre-feasibility study showed strong interest among community members in an alternative to Fort Dodge's current providers. And voters approved a municipal telecom referendum in November with a 72% yes vote.
Qualified firms can download the RFP on the City website at the following URL:
The 2020 IAMU Broadband Conference is still a GO on March 17 and 18, 2020 at the Holiday Inn Des Moines Airport.
IAMU has been closely monitoring developments with the COVID-19 virus (aka, Coronavirus) and consulting with other organizations like the Iowa Communications Alliance which holds its own (much larger) annual gathering the week after ours. The current logic is that our event is small enough that, with proper precautions, we can continue to move forward safely.
During breakfast on March 17th, Margret Meade with the IAMU Safety Team will provide attendees with some guidance on best practices for keeping COVID-19 (or any other bug) at bay.
In the meantime, you might want to start practicing your Vulcan salute as a safer alternative to handshakes. (Conference organizer and Trekker Curtis Dean will demonstrate the Vulcan salute for those who aren't familiar).
MetroNet, the rapidly-growing telecommunications company based in Indiana, is purchasing Jaguar Communications. Jaguar, based in Owatonna, Minnesota has an extensive fiber network throughout southern Minnesota.
MetroNet, which operates fiber-to-the-premise networks exclusively, has been expanding into the upper Midwest over the past two years. The company is overbuilding incumbent providers in Rochester, Minnesota, Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa and has announced plans to do the same in a "substantial portion" of Ames. In addition to its home of Indiana, MetroNet now operates in Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Ohio, and Florida.
CBAN Summit, IAMU Broadband Conference in 2 weeks
Time is running out to register for the 3rd Annual CBAN Summit on March 16th and the IAMU Broadband Conference on March 17 & 18. Both events are being held at the Holiday Inn Des Moines Airport, 6111 Fleur Drive in Des Moines.
Who Should Attend: All CBAN members of all classifications (Community, Advocate, Provider, and Vendor). The event is free to all CBAN members. If you're not a CBAN member you can sign up at the time of registration. Membership is free for all classes except Vendors.
Date and Time: Monday, March 16, 2020 from 12:30pm-6pm.
Agenda: There are several great informational sessions and plenty of time for networking/mentoring! CLICK HERE for the complete agenda from an earlier Broadband Bytes story.
Registration: CLICK HERE to register online using Eventbrite
IAMU Broadband Conference
Who Should Attend: Leaders and staff working for any municipal broadband utility, including IAMU members. The Conference is also open to any community-based broadband provider such as ITC's and other independent companies
Date and Time: Tuesday, March 17 and Wednesday, March 18.
Agenda: Nearly 20 general and breakout sessions on a wide range of topics. CLICK HERE for the latest conference agenda. Also, 44 (and counting) vendor tables with information about the products and services you need to successfully operate your telecommunications system.
Registration: Register online at www.iamu.org/events
Indianola Municipal Utilities began hooking up customers to its fiber-to-the-home network in November 2018. 16 months in, the project is proving to be a success.
IMU Telecom Director Kurt Ripperger says the municipal telecom utility sent out just over 2,100 bills at the beginning of March. That gives them a penetration rate of 31% after just 16 months of operations. That's ahead of the projected growth curve called for in their original business plan, which anticipated a 40% take rate after 5 years.
With warmer weather on the horizon Ripperger says IMU will be back at work installing service drops and converting customers soon.
SSB 3009, a bill that would have placed new restrictions on municipal telecommunications utilities in Iowa, is dead for 2020.
Not only did the bill NOT survive the first legislative funnel last week, it was never even discussed by the subcommittee assigned to the bill. In the end, legislators seemed to have little appetite for taking any actions that could be perceived as going against the goal of better broadband for more Iowans.
Thank you to our Broadband Bytes readers who reached out to Iowa lawmakers to express opposition to the bill!
Governor Kim Reynolds will discuss her Empower Rural Iowa initiative and broadband grant program during the IAMU Broadband Conference. The governor will speak during the luncheon on Tuesday, March 17th at the 9th annual conference to be held at the Holiday Inn Des Moines Airport. Lunch on March 17th is from 11:50am to 12:50am.
Broadband has been one of Governor Reynolds priorities during the past two years. The Iowa Broadband Grant Program, which provides matching funds up to 15% for projects that provide services to underserved areas, continues to expand.
Registration for the IAMU Broadband Conference is open and all are encouraged to attend. Registration for both attendees and vendors which to sponsor the conference or have an exhibit table is online at www.iamu.org/events.
CLICK HERE for a PDF of the current Conference agenda.
Broadband Bytes News
Presented by the Community Broadband Action Network and curated by Curtis Dean.