Last fall, advocates of a municipal broadband utility in Decorah, Iowa suffered a setback. The City had engaged Uptown Services to prepare a feasibility study for a fiber-to-the-home network in the northeast Iowa city of 8,127. The final report, handed to the City in the fall of 2017, reached the conclusion that a city-owned network was not feasible. The study drew criticism for a lack of detail (it consisted of a slide deck without accompanying narrative or spreadsheets showing detailed financial data). The study also did not attempt to identify a "break even" rate of penetration that is usually present in feasibility studies; it just reached a conclusion about what Decorah's take rates would likely be and advised that it wasn't feasible at those rates.
Undaunted, city leaders and the Decorah Fast Fiber citizen group have continued efforts to keep moving the project forward. Volunteers have taken the Uptown Services study apart and reconstructed the financial data needed for a better evaluation. The City is seeking consultants to provide a clearer measure of likely take rates and a business plan that could be financed. The Fast Fiber group continues to advocate through social media, pointing out that while Decorah's efforts seem to have stalled other cities in Iowa (Charles City, New Hampton, Vinton, and with its recent referendum Pella) are all moving forward.
Complicating the municipal telecommunications efforts in Decorah was the recent referendum to establish a municipal ELECTRIC utility and negotiate a purchase of Alliant Energy assets in the community. The vote was painfully close, but the official canvass found municipalization losing by 5 votes out of 2,765 votes cast. The group supporting the electric utility vote has indicated that they will ask for a recount.
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June 16, 2021
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Presented by the Community Broadband Action Network and curated by Curtis Dean.