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Broadband Commission chooses City Hall as temporary site for data center

By Kelly Terpstra,

City Hall was selected by members of the Broadband Commission Monday as the default location for the data center that will need to be a part of a proposed $11.5 million fiber-to-the-home internet network project.

“I make a motion to ask the city manager to put a placeholder in to make this building the central office location and have this committee to take a look at other facilities for their final choice,” said commission voting member Josh Mack.

Other voting members of the commission agreed.

The commission is making key decisions and recommendations to determine whether the project is to move forward onto the business plan and build phase.

One such critical determination was agreed upon on Monday in the same building that voting members decided would be the current best fit to house the central location.

“The business plan cannot be completed until we have a site. So it’s really a chicken or the egg thing here,” said City Administrator Steve Diers.

City Hall was determined to be a temporary location for now until four other buildings around Charles City are toured and looked into as other possible sites. Those potential locations are the 1970s portion of the 500 N. Grand Building, 1004 S. Grand, 1107 S. Grand (Marzen’s Towing Building) and 800 N. Main (Unggoy Broadband).

“We own it. We can put equipment in here. Could we do staffing? Currently, no. We’d have to do some remodeling,” said Diers about City Hall.

Diers said it would cost close to $12,000 in the design plan if another hub is chosen for the data center after final approval is made.

Diers said Eric Lampland and Lookout Point Communications needs to have critical input soon, such as the site location of the “nerve center.” The hub or ground zero location would store equipment necessary to run the broadband network the city is considering creating.

Charles City would be the first municipality in the state without its own electrical utility that would undertake construction of a fiber-to-the-home project if the business plan is given the go-ahead by the City Council.

“I don’t know how long we can stop and just hold serve there and wait. This is something that we need to really get wrapped up in the next couple weeks if at all possible,” said Diers, about choosing a permanent location for the data center.

Currently NewCom Technologies, along with Lampland and Lookout Point Communications, is putting some of the finishing touches on the design and engineering phase of the project — which came at a cost of approximately $381,000.

If approved, the project would connect residents and businesses in Charles City with a triple-play package of high-speed internet, video/TV and telephone with the objective of providing a fast, reliable and universally available network within the city.

“We’re trying to get it so our community has that fast, reliable network with quality customer service. Those are the things that we feel the community doesn’t have right now,” said Diers.

Another important decision to be made by the commission is the formation of a utility board that could be appointed. When voters approved the creation of a municipal telecom utility, they voted to have it managed by a separate utility board. Diers has stated that the board would need to be in place prior to the issuance of any revenue bonds that could fund the project.

Diers said that prior to Monday’s meeting there was a timeline that saw possible approval of the business plan in March and the potential of actual fiber going into the ground this fall. He said looking back, that timeline seemed “pretty aggressive.”

“It’s a big thing. We have to make sure we do it right,” said Diers. “There’s a lot of reasons why we’re doing this. We’re not taking these decisions lightly.”

The commission also approved going ahead with a promotional campaign that would inform the public as to the pros and cons of the project. The council agreed to talk to Kurt Karr about getting started with that aspect of the project. Karr is an advisor and a member of the iVinton Committee that is helping Benton County with a fiber-to-the-home project that looks to break ground this year.

“We should probably get something going here in the next few weeks as well to kind of explain to the public what we’re looking at doing,” said Diers. “What are those reasons, why are we doing this?”