Where can Iowans find some of the fastest internet service in Iowa? How about in three rural communities in the western part of the state that have a total population of just 962 residents.
Residents in and around the communities of Breda (pop. 483) and Lidderdale (pop. 180) in rural Carroll County and Westside (pop. 299) in rural Crawford County, along with the community of Carroll, can now access gigabit service through Western Iowa Networks.
“I don’t know anyone in the world, let alone the United States that is offering this type of gigabit service to its rural customers, no matter how far outside of town they are located,” said Dave Duncan, chief executive officer, Iowa Communications Alliance.
Western Iowa Networks, based out of Breda, began offering gigabit internet service to all of its customers earlier this summer.
“We are constantly challenging ourselves as a board and as a company,” said Chuck Deisbeck, chief executive officer, Western Iowa Networks. “We want to be forward thinking and acting to lead our customers as their needs and technologies constantly change.”
Planning for the installation of a fiber network that would be capable of delivering gigabit service started in the fall of 2006. In March 2010, Western Iowa Networks signed up their first customer to use the new fiber network, offering up to 30 megabit speed.
“Customers started to see the stability we could offer with our fiber optic network,” Deisbeck added. “Things have just continued to move forward from there. We actually benefited from the drier summers during recent years as construction into Breda, Lidderdale and Westside moved along ahead of schedule, wrapping up nearly two years early.”
In four years Western Iowa Networks went from offering four megabit service on a copper network to a gigabit through a fiber network.
“If you would have asked me a year ago when we would be seeing something like this in rural Iowa, I would have told you we are five years off,” Duncan added. “These guys have made it happen today. Western Iowa Networks has shown that they are a leader within our industry and this initiative adds further proof to that.”
USDA Rural Development, which has been involved in funding rural telecommunications companies for more than 60 years, played a large role in making this fiber network project happen. The agency provided $10 million in loans, as well as a $1.8 million grant from the Recovery Act of 2009.
“The gigabit service is pushing today’s technology and is certainly an investment that will last for the next 20 to 30 years,” said Bill Menner, USDA Rural Development State Director in Iowa. “High speed internet connectivity will encourage economic development in rural Iowa by providing businesses, and as we have seen schools, access to services that were previously available only in large urban cities.”
Carroll Community School District (CCSD) is one of Western Iowa Networks’ first gigabit customers.
“How many of you have sat at a computer and watched that little wheel spin?” asked Rob Cordes, superintendent of Carroll Community School District, at a ceremonial ribbon-cutting ceremony at the district’s middle school launching the new service earlier this summer. “Now imagine experiencing that with a room of 25 energy-filled third graders. When our technology was not working we were wasting precious teaching time and we just can’t afford that.”
Like many school districts around Iowa, CCSD has committed many resources to purchasing tablets and other electronic learning devices for students. School administrators quickly discovered they needed a much large “pipe” to handle all the extra use on their network.
When CCSD started working with Western Iowa Networks they talked about increasing the speed of their network to 25 megabits, but realized that would only be a temporary fix. School leaders discussed going to 50 megabit or 150 megabit service.
But, once Western Iowa Networks told them about the benefits of their new gigabit service, school officials were hooked.
“I looked at my technology director and we both said we would be foolish not to go for it,” Cordes added. “When we are using technology in the classroom it is all about engagement. If the technology is slow the engagement drops.”
Western Iowa Networks now has 375 miles of fiber up and down country roads in rural Carroll and Crawford Counties and 76 miles in the community of Carroll.
“It is amazing to see how businesses are flourishing with more bandwidth options,” Deisbeck said. “We truly believe this will allow the communities we serve to flourish in ways not previously possible.”
Fiber networks can play an important role in rural economic development and these communities, even with less than 500 residents, are on the leading edge.
“The new opportunities created by these new services are amazing,” Duncan added. “This initiative is creating quite a buzz not only in western Iowa, but statewide.”