Friday, October 18, 2019

Idaho Falls council votes to expand residential fiber citywide

The dark-shaded areas are where Idaho Falls Fiber currently offers residential service.
In a unanimous vote at a special meeting Thursday night, the Idaho Falls City Council voted to continue expansion of the city’s fiber network to provide high-speed broadband access to all residents within city limits.

In September 2018, the council directed Idaho Falls Fiber to test the economic feasibility of leveraging the existing conduits and infrastructure of Idaho Falls Power to install fiber-optic lines to residential areas. The first customers were connected in March this year, with the final phase of construction completed in early September. This pilot project encompassed approximately 1,250 residential homes.

Meanwhile. Idaho Falls Fiber has been gathering data and evaluating the costs and feasibility of expanding the high-speed fiber network through the rest of the Idaho Falls community. That information was presented to the City Council at Thursday’s meeting. Council members also heard from the residents who have taken part in the pilot program.

At the outset, city leadership envisioned working with local internet providers to bring broadband internet access to the community. During the pilot program, Idaho Falls Fiber worked with four local Internet providers -- Direct Communications, Qwk.net, Silver Star, and SUMO Fiber -- to offer residents a variety of services and pricing.  Idaho Falls Fiber also partnered with UTOPIA Fiber, which owns and operates open access fiber networks in Utah. UTOPIA provided consulting, network design and is Idaho Falls' technology provider for the open access system software.

“Designing a system like this is a complicated operational and engineering function,” said Bear Prairie, Idaho Falls Power director. “That’s why the Council approved the agreement for us to partner with UTOPIA Fiber, a not-for profit entity like Idaho Falls Fiber that has the experience in operating successful networks similar to our design."

The build out of the city wide network is projected to take place over the next four years, starting with areas with the most customers requesting the fiber utility. The network will be built in areas that are served by Idaho Falls Power, which is also a not-for-profit electric utility owned by the city and its residents.

The network and areas of future expansion community can be viewed at www.idahofallsfiber.com or at Idaho Falls Fiber’s office at 140 S. Capital Avenue. Customers can pre-sign up for the high speed fiber network service online or in person, which will help direct Idaho Falls Fiber determine the most under-served areas first.

Idaho Falls Power dates back to 1900, when it was established to provide limited street lighting in downtown, drawing power from a hydro-electric generator in a local canal hydro project. Today it has five run-of-river hydro-electric projects and has one of the lowest electric rates in the United States.

Idaho Falls Fiber was formed in 1998 with the construction of a limited fiber network for the power utility. It was expanded in 2002 in order to provide high-bandwidth service to other city and county buildings, educational institutions and commercial businesses.