Sunday, September 30, 2018

City of Idaho Falls to begin residential fiber pilot project

The Idaho Falls City Council has authorized Idaho Falls Power, the city-owned utility, to begin a pilot program to examine the costs associated with providing high-speed fiber optic access to Idaho Falls residences.

“Essentially, Idaho Falls Power already manages a large infrastructure that provides fiber to numerous local businesses, government and schools,” said Bear Prairie, general manager of Idaho Falls Power and Idaho Falls Fiber. “What this resolution does is formally direct us to prove the feasibility of expanding our network throughout the city.”

Prairie said that the pilot will allow Idaho Falls Power critical connectivity with residential electric customers to provide better power monitoring and customer service. It will also deliver previously unavailable fiber access for internet connectivity if customers want to use the additional bandwidth.

“With this project, I wish to make clear that we are not interested in becoming an Internet service provider.  We anticipate local companies will want to provide this service. What we can do is get the fiber physically to the homes and maintain the infrastructure. That is something Idaho Falls Power is really good at.”

Idaho Falls Power already maintains hundreds of miles of power and fiber lines that are run above ground on poles or buried underground throughout neighborhoods. With the passage of the Sept. 27 resolution, work now begins within the study area to design a network that will provide connections from those lines to homes.

“Designing a system like this is a detailed, complicated engineering function,” Prairie said. “This is why the council also approved an agreement for us to work with Utopia, a company specializing in network design and management. It important to note that Utopia won’t be a service provider, they’ll simply help design and manage an open access system. The system will still rely on local companies to partner with to provide internet service.”

Prairie pointed out that because Idaho Falls Power already has the fiber backbone and can run new lines through existing power infrastructure, the utility can build the residential fiber network at a fraction of the cost any other company would face.

The actual boundaries for the pilot program have not yet been finalized.  However, the general area includes the numbered streets bordered by 17th Street and Tautphaus Park and will also extend south into a number of residential areas south of Sunnyside Road.

Idaho Falls Fiber will be sending out a letter in early October to residents in the pilot area. An open house also will be held at 6 p.m. on October 23 at Taylorview Middle School to explain the program in greater detail to residents living in the pilot project boundaries.

Design of the network will begin right away with construction expected to start early in November and continue through the spring. Service to customers will become available as the project progresses, beginning sometime between December and May, depending on customer location.

NOTE: If you're interested in the growing trend of municipalities stringing their own fiber -- and the laws in some states (but not Idaho) aimed at checking the trend, this piece recently ran in Wired:
Small-town ingenuity is making gigabit broadband a reality