Portland, Mich., Sees Hope After New Broadband Survey

After receiving good news from a feasibility study related to creating a city-wide network, Portland moved forward with surveying residents in an attempt to validate some of those earlier figures.

by Mitchell Boatman, Ionia Sentinel-Standard / May 7, 2019
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(TNS) — Portland, Mich., recently received the results of a survey polling residents on interest in a potential city-wide fiber optic broadband Internet service, and the results were about as good as the city could hope for.

The city previously had a feasibility study conducted by Pulse Broadband into whether a city-wide network would be possible. After receiving good news from the feasibility study, the city moved forward with surveying residents in an attempt to validate some figures used in Pulse Broadband's study.

At the city council meeting on Monday, May 6, City Manager Tutt Gorman and Rudy Tober of Pulse Broadband discussed the results with Portland's city council, and the results were very positive.

"If I had to summarize, this is really very encouraging," Tober told the council. "Obviously there is some pent up demand or thirst for a better broadband product.

"At 418 (residents) that completed survey, that's a pretty good sample. The confidence level was above the 95 percent mark. Most would look at that and say this is a pretty sound survey in every regard."

Tober compared the results of Portland's survey with those of four other communities that had conducted similar statistical surveys before going forward with city-wide fiber optic networks.

He highlighted three categories for comparison: member dissatisfaction with current Internet provider; interest in switching to new entry level high speed data service proposed in survey; and interest in purchasing premium level tier of high speed data service proposed in the survey.

The entry level service in the survey was a 200 megabyte symmetrical upload/download speed at $49.95 per month. The premium level was a one gigabyte symmetrical speed at $89.95 per month.

In the first area, the percentage of survey responders dissatisfied with their current service came in at 38 percent. The compared surveys came in at 31, 65, 31 and 53 percent, respectively. Portland was slightly lower than the average, but Tober said Portland is "in the ballpark" of the average number.

The key statistic, Tober said, is the interest in switching to the entry level service. Portland performed remarkably well in this area, with 69 percent of those surveyed saying they were very interested in switching.

That bodes well for the city, which was operating on an estimated 40 percent take rate in the feasibility study.

"Honestly, that's the highest we've seen," Tober said of the high percentage of interested residents. "I was a little surprised. I expected it to be strong, but this is higher than I expected."

The four compared surveys came in at 49, 54, 38 and 56 percent, respectively.

Portland's interest in premium service came in at 25 percent. Tober said this is typically around the number they expect. The other area's surveys came in at 36, 36, 25 and 45 percent.

With the encouraging results, the city will look into what it will take to fund the project and what it would take to operate it administratively.

"Number one we have to look at the financing," Gorman said. "We understand this would be a bonding situation through the Board of Light and Power, so their board would have to look at that and look at the financials and see what the opportunities are.

"Secondly, we need to look at, very pragmatically, how would this work as far as administration. You can structure these many different ways as far as how these operate. We want to look at all the different options and go from there."

Gorman added there is no set timeline for any future steps, but the city will do the necessary further explore the possibility of the project.

"We're just working through it," he said. "We want to be diligent. The residents, the surveys, they have spoken very loudly that they want this. We want to make sure that we're acting quickly and swiftly on this, so hopefully soon."

©2019 Ionia Sentinel-Standard, Mich. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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