Fiber optic internet may soon be an option for Idaho Falls residents

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Courtesy Bud Cranor

IDAHO FALLS – The city of Idaho Falls may soon be offering fiber optic internet services for residents.

During a meeting last Thursday, the Idaho Falls Power board of trustees approved a pilot program to determine what the business plan for this service will look like.

Prior to launching the pilot program, the city is trying to identify a specific neighborhood to put fiber optics to the test. They want to begin testing fiber optics in a thousand homes this fall or early winter 2019.

Throughout this trial period, they will be determining the best way to get fiber optics into each home, the cost of the service to customers and how billing will work, among other details. Since the city has its own power grid, they would like to make this service available through Idaho Falls Power.

“There is a (financial) benefit by making this available through Idaho Falls Power because we’re a nonprofit government agency,” City councilman John Radford tells EastIdahoNews.com. “You would think we’d be able to offer this service at a fair price. But that’s what the pilot program is about, to try and determine what that price might be.”

Fiber optic installation on Holmes in Idaho Falls | Eric Grossarth, EastIdahoNews.com

Ammon became one of the first cities in the nation to introduce their own fiber optic network for residents in 2016. It’s an open access network, meaning people can opt in or out of the service and use any provider they choose. The upfront cost for installation is just under $3,000 and costs $16.50 a month to use the service. That price was determined by dividing employee time and equipment costs by the number of homes in that area.

Bruce Patterson, Ammon’s Technology Director, says they’ve been able to keep prices affordable to customers by treating fiber internet as a local improvement district. Those who opt in to the service within a certain geographic area become part of a district.

“Fiber optics is all paid for by the property owner who requests the installation. It allows for long term, low interest financing that is attached to the property.”

If a fiber customer decides to sell their home, Systems Administrator Stephen Burke says the new homeowner will incur the cost of the installation.

“We’ve seen a lot of people who have opted not to get the fiber service. When the new homeowners come in, they actually get frustrated if fiber was never installed because they now have to pay the full cost out of pocket,” Burke says. “We’ve also seen people who are already selling their house but they get fiber anyway and they’re able to sell their house quicker.”

Once a customer has paid off the installation price, the monthly rate for internet service goes down.

Currently, there are 450 residential properties in Ammon out of more than 4,000, that have opted in to the service.

Technology advancements in the electric industry have made fiber optics an ongoing discussion for city officials in Idaho Falls over the last several years. Jace Yancey, the Operations Technology Manager for IFP, says one of the biggest benefits this service would provide is a robust, state-of-the-art communication system.

“It gives customers the ability to have bandwidth speeds that they’ve never had access to,” says Yancey. “They’re not constrained by a metal wire. This is light and fiber. The amount of data it can carry is just amazing.”

Radford says his current internet provider allows about 150 mbps of download speed. With fiber optics, he says customers would have access to 1G download speeds or greater.

“Fiber internet is equivalent to what was happening with gutters, sewers, roads and sidewalks in the 1900s. We have to get this infrastructure in place if we want to continue to operate in this century.”

Patterson feels fiber optics is feasible for communities across the nation and is critical to our economic future.

“Fiber optics is critical for any community who wants to participate in the next economy. Just like the railways were the life blood of the economy in the 1800s and the interstates for modern communities, fiber is necessary for a community’s future economy of information.”

Idaho Falls first began offering fiber to link city facilities in 1999. The city launched the Idaho Falls Fiber Network in 2002, boosting communications while keeping costs low. The network expanded over the next several years until 2006, when it was made available to the business sector. City officials says they are excited to begin the process of figuring out how to provide fiber optics for every resident who wants it.

“There is a huge need for increased capacity and connectivity not just for residents, but for business development. (The decision to offer fiber to residents) is going to be monumental in our efforts to diversify our economy and bring new business to the city of Idaho Falls,” city spokesman Bud Cranor says.

More details on the Idaho Falls fiber optics plan are forthcoming. More information will be posted as this story develops in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, if you’d like to learn more about Ammon’s fiber optic network, visit their website.

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