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Eagle, Idaho, Might Build an Open Access Broadband Network

Through a survey, the city of Eagle, Idaho, is now gauging citizen interest in a community-owned fiber system that would promote competition between multiple broadband providers through an open access network.

(TNS) — The city of Eagle is considering taking the issue of fiber optic broadband Internet into its own hands.

The city government released a survey on Monday morning to gauge residents’ interest in a community-owned fiber broadband network.

The Eagle Fiber Project would move control of Internet access away from Internet service providers and into the hands of the city, allowing Eagle to own the infrastructure and do cheaper business with ISPs that the city sees as suitable companies for its service, according to the mayor.

“I think definitely during COVID, even before that, being able to better provide telehealth for our residents, better able to allow home businesses, and even businesses in our community, along with education, I think it’s just become more of a public entity,” Eagle Mayor Jason Pierce told the Statesman.

Internet would be treated like other government-provided services, Pierce said, and allow residents to select from a number of different ISPs. The mayor said he has looked to Ammon, a small city of just over 17,000 east of Idaho Falls, as the model for his Eagle Fiber Project. Ammon installed its own fiber optic network in 2011 and has, in some cases, seen the cost of 1 gigabit of Internet drop from $99 a month to $9.99 per month.

A video published on the city of Eagle’s website states that residents who opt into the optional service would see their monthly Internet bill drop by up to 30%. That cost would be lowered by an additional 30-40% once the cost of building the infrastructure has been paid, the city says.

Eagle’s website says that taxes will not be increased to fund the network. Much of the funding would come from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which saw the federal government appropriate $19.53 billion to “Non-Entitlement Units of Local Governments,” which are cities with a population of less than 50,000. Eagle has about 30,000 residents, according to the 2020 U.S. Census.

“It’s been something that I actually was looking at doing even before the whole COVID situation and the ARPA money came about,” Pierce said. “But now the ARPA money is there to help provide better Internet.”

As of Monday afternoon, Eagle had received 160 responses to its survey, and Pierce said he has received positive feedback from people in person. But reaching out to residents is simply the initial step in the process.

The city still has no estimate for how much the network would cost, Pierce said, and will look into that further if it receives overwhelmingly positive feedback on the project and decides to move forward.

If Eagle does proceed with the community-owned broadband, Pierce said he expects the first residents to have access to the network by the end of 2022. Because it’s an opt-in project, areas of the city that overwhelmingly say they want the service would receive it first.

“Throughout the city you’re looking at a long-term project,” Pierce said. “But we are looking to have our newer developments put all the conduit in the ground and be ready for when they do light stuff up to have it into their neighborhoods (by the end of the year).”

©2022 The Idaho Statesman, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.