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Danville Telecom Takes a Risk on Broadband Expansion in Southeast Iowa


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Danville Telecom has taken on the daunting task of installing $ 8.8 million broadband infrastructure in Des Moines, Henry and Lee counties.

It’s a significant risk, but a relatively small business finds it worth it. Outside of the fiber optic lines Danville Telecom provides to businesses in West Burlington, Burlington, Fort Madison and Keokuk, it has a service area of ​​approximately 69 square miles in Danville.

“It’s (a risk) that we believe is in our best interest not only to make our business relevant in the future, but also to provide the service that I think everyone in the county is entitled to,” Tim Fencl, CEO and Managing Director of Danville Telecom, told The Hawk Eye on Friday.

The company received two grant payments under the Empower Rural Iowa Broadband program for a total of approximately $ 5.2 million. But Danville Telecom will only receive this money after the projects are completed, which means the company has to keep its promises.

It is for this reason that Fencl initially advised the Telecom Board of Directors against accepting the $ 1.67 million grant for the Des Moines and Henry Counties Project, which is estimated to cost $ 3 in total. $ 4 million.

“My recommendation to the board was that we don’t accept the grant for the counties of Henry and Des Moines due to the tight commitment it would require us to do, but the board said, ‘Go back, look again, tighten the finances, sharpen your pencils a bit, “Fencl told the Des Moines County Board of Directors at a business meeting on Tuesday.” We have to self-fund it with a lot of money over the years. next four years. … It’s been sleepless nights and gray hair. “

Danville Telecom has already received financial commitments from Lee and Henry counties to install fiber there. The Lee County Board of Supervisors approved $ 1.95 million from funds the county received under the American Rescue Plan Act, and the Henry County Board of Supervisors recently followed suit, appropriating $ 700,000 for the project, or about 32% of the cost of the infrastructure to be installed in this county.

Shaded areas on a map show areas with little or no service in Lee County.  Danville Telecom will receive $ 3.5 million under the Empower Rural Iowa broadband grant program after installing high-speed broadband infrastructure there.  The grant covers just over half of the total cost of the project.

Fencl is hoping for a similar commitment from supervisors in Des Moines County, who have expressed support for the project but did not specify a dollar amount due to uncertainty over the cost of a new public health building. , which, according to initial estimates, is between $ 2.2 million. and $ 4 million.

Supervisor Tom Broeker also noted that the board must consider the cost of scanning courthouse files and installing a new telephone system.

Broeker however speculated on the reasonable amount the county could contribute based on Henry County’s appropriation.

“If Des Moines County allocates 32%, we are right at $ 355,000,” Broeker noted.

The planned 21.9 mile fiber optic facility would provide service speeds of 100 megabits per second to 78 homes and businesses in the northwestern part of Des Moines County.

“Everyone in Des Moines County Should Have Internet”: Growing Need for Broadband

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased reliance on internet connectivity for just about everyone, as it has prompted employees, business owners and students to move away.

“The amount of broadband use has not decreased,” Fencl said of the months since many schools and businesses reopened. “On the contrary, it continues to increase. Economic development is 100% driven by the infrastructure you have in place and a broadband connection is a big part of that.”

Supervisor Shane McCampbell also noted a growing reliance on broadband access for the future of the workforce.

“In my workforce development meeting, they said we need to rethink the future of the workforce and what that workforce looks like (what looks like), and a part of rethinking that workforce is going to be with technology and the Internet, ”McCampbell said. “Personally, I think everyone in Des Moines County should have the Internet.”

Even with vaccines to protect against COVID-19 widely available, many workers continue to work from home, either by choice or by mandate.

Buyers continue to shop online and schools have seen changes in their learning preferences as, after a year of blended learning, some students choose to continue their education online rather than in person.

The importance of high speed broadband access will continue to grow as technology evolves, which is why Fencl believes it is important to put the infrastructure in place to support it now.

Tim Fencl, Managing Director and CEO of Danville Telecom, speaks with the Iowa Gov.  Kim Reynolds after she and Lieutenant Governor Adam Gregg met with the Des Moines County community and business leaders to discuss her efforts to expand broadband in the state on February 12, 2021, in the room of the Winegard Council of the Greater Burlington Partnership.

It’s a view he shared with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds in February after attending a meeting with Des Moines County business leaders.

Following:Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds’ plan for “nation’s greatest broadband development” receives support during visit to Burlington

On the Monday following that meeting, Reynolds asked Fencl to testify before a Senate subcommittee hearing on Empower Rural Iowa Broadband grants for which she wanted to commit money.

“If the governor calls, you don’t say no, because if you do, you will never be asked again,” Fencl said.

A day after testifying, Fencl spoke for about an hour with Reynolds, Lieutenant Governor Adam Gregg, three senators and two representatives about how best to use the money for broadband expansion.

“My biggest point for them was to create networks that you don’t have to fund anymore,” Fencl told The Hawk Eye. “If you build a fiber network, if you need more capacity, you change the electronics, but you don’t have to change what’s already in the ground.

“Fiber is fiber, and you can get more light through it by changing the electronics at the end, but you don’t need to build a whole new network. So if you push towards networks of fiber, you won’t have to come back and fund another area again in two, three or four years like we have had to in the past. ”

“A 128,000 miles per second message”: what is fiber and how does it work?

Fiber optic cables are filled with glass filaments capable of sending data back and forth via lasers and light signals.

“You create your message, your email, and when you hit the send button, that email is converted to ones and zeros. It’s computer language,” said Fencl, who provided a training on the subject to many people throughout his career.

“It’s billions of ones and zeros that are so fast and there are so many that the human eye couldn’t see them.”

A fiber optic cable.

These ones and zeros, he explained, are coded in light.

“Optical fiber is an extruded glass that is hollow and smaller than a human hair,” Fencl continued. “And the light travels inside that hollowed-out hair fiber and it’s pushed through by bursts of light that go from point A to point B.”

Because these ones and zeros are pushed through light, they travel at the speed of light, which is 128,000 miles per second. Some latency is added for each device that these ones and zeros pass through.

When this computer code reaches its destination, it is decoded the same way it was encoded.

“They take the light and take the ones and zeros out of it, then they put it back to the computer on the next end,” Fencl said of the fibers. “It takes those ones and zeros and displays them on your screen as a message at 128,000 miles per second.”

This is the kind of speed that Fencl believes will be vital in the future, and he is happy to be able to start building the infrastructure for this type of connectivity.

“I think this is a great opportunity for underserved residents of Lee Henry and Des Moines counties to be able to connect to a reliable and future-proof network that we hope to provide them in the very near future. “, did he declare.

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