Columbia Falls, Mont., Citizens Suggest Spending on Fiber

The city has $192,000 in tax increment financing funds and some residents argued that it would be most effective to spend the money on updating Internet infrastructure. The council has yet to make a decision.

by Chris Peterson, Hungry Horse News / January 31, 2019

(TNS) — Columbia Falls, Mont., residents had several ideas for how the city could spend some of its tax increment financing (TIF) monies, but the most common one didn’t have anything to do with sidewalks or street lights or bike paths — it was the Internet.

Both Freedom Bank President Don Bennett and businessman Dave Petersen both suggested the city look at investing more into its Internet infrastructure — most notably fiber optic lines that could bring super high speed Internet to the business district during a public hearing last week.

Bennett said he recently had discussions with MontanaSky founder Fred Weber about the possibility of bringing fiber to the Nucleus District.

MontanaSky has recently made agreements to have fiber optic service from Seattle to Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Through an agreement with Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, the optic service runs right past Columbia Falls, but it would take a point of presence facility somewhere near the railroad to bring it to the city.

In a later interview, Weber said a POP, as it’s known, costs about $60,000. Running the cable would have additional costs. If the city was interested, he said MontanaSky could seek a low interest loan from the TIF.

Columbia Falls already has Flathead Electric poles in downtown, so the lines wouldn’t have to buried, Weber noted. Fiber optic brings much faster Internet than copper wire. A typical home has Internet download speeds of about 10 to 25 megabits per second. Fiber optic, by contrast, has download speeds of about 100 gigabits per second. One hundred gigabits per second, for comparison, is equal to 800,000 megabits per second.

In other words, it’s fast — very fast.

The city has about $192,000 in its TIF account this fiscal year, city manager Susan Nicosia said.

Council made no decision on the matter and Internet wasn’t the only project people brought up. Bennett also urged council to save some the money for projects further down the road.

Peterson also suggested the city look at lighting along the roof lines of Nucleus Avenue buildings and he also suggested the city do a new promotional video for its website, which is becoming dated.

©2019 the Hungry Horse News (Columbia Falls, Mont.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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