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City of American Falls to offer free fiber internet access to all residents

Local

AMERICAN FALLS — In partnership with a Rockland-based communications company, the city of American Falls will soon be offering fiber optic internet access to all residents free of charge.

As Mayor Rebekah Sorensen told EastIdahoNews.com, this plan advances efforts already in place to create better opportunities for residents. The city currently provides internet at city parks and city offices, and she is “thrilled” to bring this opportunity.

“Technology is advancing everywhere, so we don’t want to get left behind,” she said.

Going one step further, Sorensen continued, this sort of access creates a draw for new residents and small businesses to American Falls. She believes the new internet, along with other new things the city has in the works, will encourage people to stay, and the city’s children to return after college.

The fiber optic internet access points will be supplied to all 1,474 homes in American Falls by Direct Communications, a family-owned company based in nearby Rockland. The development of the fiber-optic network, which will include a state-of-the-art process called microtrenching, is expected to be completed by 2023.

KaLee Ralphs, the company’s spokeswoman, told EastIdahoNews.com that they have worked on similar programs with other rural towns and cities in Idaho to “bridge the digital divide.” She added this will be the largest such undertaking in which the company has engaged.

“The goal is to have every home that wants fiber to have it to their home,” she said.

The advantages of fiber optic internet service over copper-wired, satellite or other wireless broadband options are extensive, Ralphs said.

For starters, fiber optic cables are not affected by the weather. Although other wired options can freeze or slow with heat, fiber optic maintains effectiveness in the freezing winters and hot summers. There is also no dish to serve as a collection point for snow and rain, or a satellite signal to be obstructed by trees.

“This is underground, so it just doesn’t have those problems,” she said. “The biggest difference I see is that the upload and download speed for fiber is the same.”

As anyone who has tried to post a video on YouTube would know, such an effort can be time-consuming with other internet options.

The fiber optic system will run throughout the city, with access or drop points at the home of every resident interested. Ralphs, however, does expect some of the city’s residents to deny the service.

For several reasons — not wanting to change provider, lack of understanding, or the belief that the government will use the service to spy on those in the home — some residents have denied the access point at every city her company has completed a similar service.

Sorensen encouraged all residents to take advantage of what she said was “a no-brainer, in my book.”

Even if residents decide not to make use of the access point and bring fiber internet to their home, the benefits of a free service that would normally cost in the thousands are great.

“It would at least be wise to allow Direct Communications to put the drop at their home,” she said. “That way, in the future, if they sell or someone else comes in, that will increase the value of their home. … You don’t have to have it. But to have that option, when the cost is being covered — I would strongly encourage everyone to, at the very least, give themselves the opportunity.”

According to Ralphs, the addition of a fiber-optic access point increases a home’s value, on average, between 3% and 5%.

Another argument Ralphs believes could be presented is a current lack of need.

“Right now, the City of American Falls may not need fiber,” she said. “But within the next couple years, and with how much the strain on broadband has increased over the last few years because of the pandemic … there’s going to be a huge strain on (other) network(s).”

So far, though limited, Sorensen’s communications with residents about the plan have been entirely positive.

“The people that I’ve talked to, every single one of them have asked, ‘Well, when are they coming to my house?'” she said.”

How quickly people will begin to see their access points will depend on Direct Communications’ microtrenching process.

Ralphs said this newly developed technology allows her company to cut a trench into the road, about 3 feet from the curb, to lay the fiber network before refilling the trench. This less-labor intensive process allows her company to avoid the power and water network already in place.

“It’s pretty state-of-the-art. Not many companies are using it,” Ralphs said. “It’s faster because you’re not having to fight with all of the other utilities.”

While the work has already begun, the city and Direct Communications will host what Sorensen called a “kickoff event” at noon on Jan. 20.

“I really appreciate Direct Communications for bringing this opportunity to us, being willing to help American Falls in this way,” Sorensen said. “It’s going to be awesome.”

“I expect good things for the city,” Ralphs said. “I’m hoping it attracts more residents and small businesses and helps them to grow. We’re excited to be part of the process.”

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