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Waterloo, Iowa, Appoints Residents to Broadband Committee

As part of the mayor's smart city strategy, the city of Waterloo, Iowa, is putting together a committee of three to five residents to explore the idea of forming its own municipal broadband utility.

a digital rendering of high-speed internet
(TNS) — A committee of residents will be appointed to help with Waterloo, Iowa's quest to explore a municipal broadband utility.

The Telecommunications Utility Board of Trustees voted unanimously Wednesday to approve a resolution establishing the committee. The committee will include three to five members that will provide input about city-owned high-speed Internet, phone services and cable television. The members will be appointed by board chair Andy Van Fleet and confirmed by votes from board members.

Van Fleet said the residents will help the city in four areas: Risk mitigation, community marketing, digital infrastructure and finance and business strategy. He called the areas "critical pillars to move this project forward successfully when the time is right to turn the plan into actionable items."

"This is such a monumental project that we could as a group benefit from having additional minds thinking through some of the best ways to proceed with this," Van Fleet said.

The members will serve on the committee for as long as deemed necessary by the telecommunications board, according to the resolution. The committee meetings would be open to the public as required by Iowa law, Van Fleet said.

There are residents that Van Fleet already thinks should serve on the committee, but he said he is open to recommendations.

The decision to form the committee comes as the Telecommunications Utility Board of Trustees is reviewing a broadband study from consultant Magellan Advisors. The city commissioned the study more than a year ago, allocating $110,000 in unspent general obligation bonds to cover the cost.

Board members are privately reviewing the study without public input. The city declined to release the study to The Courier after an open records request, citing part of Iowa code that allows "draft" material to stay confidential.

Van Fleet previously said the study will be publicly released and brought to City Council for approval in May or June.

Waterloo's chief financial officer, Michelle Weidner, said Wednesday the city is including some money for initial broadband costs in the next fiscal year's capital improvement budget. She did not provide specific details.

City Council member Sharon Juon, a liaison to the board, asked whether council officials will get a presentation about the budget requests. Weidner said the decision would be up to City Council members.

Van Fleet said the board is "waiting on Magellan to finalize the draft study" before Feb. 15. The finalized study will then be reviewed by board members, and there will be a presentation about it at the Feb. 24 board meeting, Van Fleet said.

The updated study will include aspects of Mayor Quentin Hart's plans for a "smart city," Van Fleet said. This includes technology that aims to help agencies and officials collect data about city systems, improve communication and enhance interconnectedness.

"They've been a really great partner to work with," Van Fleet said of Magellan Advisors. "They've done a great job of thinking through the best approach for what we're trying to accomplish here in Waterloo."

(c)2021 Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.