The nearly 900-mile, $68.5 million fiber optic pipeline through nine northwest Illinois counties brought the promise of high speed connections to rural towns, but so far main users are 500 schools, governments, police and fire departments, and other community anchor institutions.
(TNS) — CHERRY VALLEY — Competition for high-speed internet is so close that Adam Wykes can literally stand atop a fiber optic cable running through the village near the Butler Park water tower.
It's getting it out of the ground that's the problem.
The issue: Money.
Three years after the $68.5 million iFiber broadband network was completed, Wykes is among the impatient. The nearly 900-mile fiber optic pipeline through nine northwest Illinois counties brought the promise of high speed connections to rural towns and more competition among providers in larger markets like Cherry Valley, where Comcast and AT&T are major players.
But so far, the main users of iFiber are 500 schools, governments, police and fire departments, libraries, community colleges, health care providers and other community anchor institutions.
Wykes wants iFiber for the people. He’s lobbied Cherry Valley Village Hall, started a petition to garner public support and reached out to service providers to see what it would take to tap into iFiber.
"Personally, it's not that I need a faster connection," said Wykes, 31, who lives in the village with his wife and two children. "I need cheaper internet."
Ironically, getting cheaper internet takes cash. It requires an investment in "last mile technology," a telecom term for getting service from fiber optic pipelines to living rooms and offices.
Cherry Valley, which has a franchise agreement with Comcast but can allow competitors to provide services, too, has other financial priorities.
"We need to spend money on keeping up sidewalks, roads, and drainage issues," said Cherry Valley Village President Jim Claeyssen.
Claeyssen said last year that Cherry Valley had spent about $29,000 to run just 800 feet of fiber optic cable to connect the village's new public works building. He said the village doesn't have money in its budget for last mile connections.
Such connections to iFiber, built from 2010 to 2013 by the Illinois Fiber Resources Group, will likely rely on a fledgling commercialization plan.
Five partner companies have started selling connections to the iFiber network, which was funded with a $46.1 million federal stimulus spending grant, $14 million from the state of Illinois and $8.4 million from local governments.
Matt Parks, interim director of iFiber, estimates that "a couple dozen" commercial connections have been sold so far.
In Rockford, City Hall mulled a plan to snake fiber optic cables through its water pipes, and then sell internet services to residents.
But Glenn Trommels, the city's IT director and iFiber board chairman, said the internet services business is "super competitive." And for a utility funded by taxpayers, going up against big corporate internet providers would be risky.
Trommels hopes a private company puts transmitters on streetlight poles and other existing infrastructure, and rolls out service to homes and offices in the city.
"Our path forward is not to build it," Trommels said. "We want to induce outside investment to come in and leverage that (iFiber) backbone."
Urban Communications Inc. in Oak Forest is one of iFiber's five business-residential service partners. CEO Ed Urban said Illinois's fiscal crisis has stymied discussion in many smaller, rural communities about tapping into the network. There's interest, he said, but without state seed money they can't afford such a venture.
"The problem I see often is that you have a handful of people who are very enthusiastic, and that doesn't translate to decision makers in the community," Urban said.
Wykes briefly collected signatures in Cherry Valley this spring to build support. He said a Wi-Fi transmitter atop the water tower in Bugler Park could serve village business and homes like his, where he once wanted to set up compiling servers for a business venture but decided he couldn't afford internet bills.
"Everyone said yes, this is something I'd like to see," said Wykes, a self-described computer nerd.
He dropped the petition drive after collecting a dozen or so signatures when he realized it was support from the Village Hall, not from citizens, that the effort needed.
Claeyssen, an engineer, said he's fascinated by the technology behind fiber optics and the prospect of competition for internet services in the village. But Claeyssen, the public official, said there's no money in the budget to open and operate a municipal broadband internet spigot.
"It's not that we're not still looking at it, but right now the cost is just extremely high," he said.
©2016 Rockford Register Star, Ill. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.