Expanding Rural Iowa’s Broadband Infrastructure
Western Iowa Telcom, commonly known as Wiatel, recently received a $24.8 million USDA loan for an extensive fiber-to-the-premise (FTTP) project that will greatly expand broadband access to communities, residents and businesses in northwest Iowa.
“This broadband infrastructure investment will connect rural Iowans to a digital future and will help expand access to high-speed internet, healthcare, educational and business services in Monona and Woodbury Counties,” said Timothy Helmbrecht, USDA Rural Development Acting State Director in Iowa. “Broadband helps create jobs. It also helps rural areas offer the programs and services that strengthen economies and encourage growth.”
Wiatel serves residents and businesses in and around 12 northwest Iowa rural communities, covering a nearly 750 square-mile territory, but with a customer density of just 5.5 customers per square mile.
“We have been experiencing steady increases in broadband speed demand for many years and actually began planning this FTTP project around three years ago,” said Heath Mallory, general manager, Wiatel.
The three-year project is being broken into three phases and will include the installation of fiber into homes and businesses in and/or near the communities of Bronson, Castana, Climbing Hill, Holly Springs, Hornick, Lawton, Moville, Oto, Rodney, Smithland and Turin. Populations in these communities range from less than 100 to around 1,600. The project should be completed in 2019.
At any given time there will be as many as 20 construction crew members and 10 cutover crew members working on the project, providing a significant local economic impact to area hotels, restaurants, fuel stations and other local retailers and vendors.
The new fiber will allow Wiatel to provide gigabit internet, internet protocol television (iPTV) and voice services to nearly all of its nearly 4,000 customers.
“Less than half of our customers currently receive our legacy cable television service and approximately 40 percent have to settle for internet speeds slower than our maximum digital subscriber line (DSL) speed,” Mallory added. “We pride ourselves on providing services at rates that are competitive to the larger urban areas bordering our service area. With this project, the communities we serve will be more attractive through access to fast, reliable, and reasonably priced telecommunication services.”
Wiatel serves three school districts and has seen a large increase in broadband demand from them during the last few years.
“As schools accelerated their internal wireless access for students and staff, it was clear their increased broadband usage would outpaced their ability to effectively use our network,” Mallory said. “All of our schools are now on a new fiber network and the increased performance was recognized immediately, in one case even before the installation technician left the building.”
Wiatel began transitioning other customers over to a fiber network earlier this year and the company regularly hears positive customer feedback.
“Commercial customers note an increase in performance using cloud-based services, medical service customers report a better ability to transmit and receive large medical data files quickly and accurately, farmers are able to more quickly access critical weather, crop market and farm equipment software diagnostic services, and residential customers love the increased performance they are seeing in everything from streaming video content to gaming,” Mallory added.
USDA Rural Development partners with more than 500 telecommunications providers across the country to fund broadband infrastructure investments that are uniquely designed to meet the specific needs of each rural community. These projects connect residents, businesses, health care facilities and community facilities, including schools, libraries and first responders, to the internet.
Applications for the next round funding of USDA Rural Development’s telecommunications program to provide or expand broadband service in rural areas are being accepted through September 22, 2017. Loans can range from $100,000 to $20 million.
“USDA has an established history working with our industry and understands the engineering, as well as the financial side of the telecommunications business,” Mallory added. “USDA staff working on the telecommunications program provide outstanding assistance during all phases of the loan application, engineering design, and distribution request process.”
||Obligation Amount||$24.8 million||Date of Obligation||June 2017||Congressional District||King - 04||Senator's Last Names||Grassley and Ernst|