Work set for Green Bay area broadband upgrade

Investments in county Internet paying dividends


LEE COUNTY –  A $1.9 million investment in county funds coupled with investments from Danville Telecom is bringing high speed internet to about 100 homes in Wever, and has produced a more efficient backbone of service in the county.
The fiber optic “backbone” Danville Telecom built east of Keokuk between the city and Argyle is physically complete, but still needs some electronics initiated. The ring creates a redundance of service in the county that not only protects current users on Danville’s system, but also is an attractive piece of infrastructure for larger Internet providers to help build out more rural service for the county.
Tim Fencl, CEO of Danville Telecom, told the Southeast Iowa Regional & Economic Port Authority Tuesday morning the construction is complete and focus has shifted to providing high-speed service to homes near Wever.
“On Feb. 6 we had a Wever town hall meeting with residents of Wever showing up. We had 55 at the fire department where we gave a presentation and talk to those individuals,” he said.
“So far we have permission from 63 property owners, residential and business, to install fiber to their home.
Danville Telecom committed to serving 110 homes in the Wever area as part of the $1.9 million in county ARPA funding that also helped create the redundant loop near Keokuk.
“I will say it was really enjoyable going to Wever and having that conversation with the people. They are so happy we are coming to town,” Fencl said.
“I think I had to repeat at least 15 times that our charge was $85. They would ask what else, that’s it - $85. What’s it going to be next month? $85.”
Fencl said residents stuck around for about 45 minutes after the meeting regarding the service and asked questions about the service and possible price increases.
 “I assured everybody that I’ve been at Danville 14 years and as CEO 12 years and we’ve raised our prices once. That was six months ago when we went from 3/1 (upload/download mgb) speed to 100/100 and our price went from $75 to $85,” he said.
“It was a very powerful meeting and we discussed if we need to, we can go back and have another meeting to keep people up on the progress of the work.”
Fencl said 14 other homes have also expressed interest that are outside the 110 commitment. He said if costs to run service to those homes comes back reasonable, maybe Danville can extend beyond the original commitment.
The county has to approve the utility improvements and permit the work. Fencl said those applications are in.
He also said the construction is scheduled to be completed by September. Fiber lease payments to SIREPA will begin in December of 2024. The funding for the project was acquired by the port authority through grants and investments and the port authority owns the new fiber optic ring infrastructure for 10 years. Danville will pay lease payments to SIREPA for those 10 years and the funds are to be used to leverage additional high speed “build out” in the county.
Fencl said additional funding is being released by the state and federal governments, but the regulations on the money make it very difficult for smaller companies like Danville Telecom to compete for the grants. However, the presence of the high-speed infrastructure built by the county, SIREPA, and Danville Telecom, position the county well for other investment by larger firms.
In the last Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO), Lee County had two of the top 20 projects presented to the state.
Mediacom and Mediapolis Telephone have been awarded about $20 million combined to extend additional high speed service in the county with the latest round of grants from Empower Rural Iowa’s Rural Broadband grant funding. The two companies have planned about $28 million in Lee County work.
The Mediacom award could serve approximately 700 addresses in southern Lee County. Mediacom requested $29 million for their multi-county project to serve a total of 4,466 addresses, but the company was awarded $19.1 million, which could potentially affect the project going forward.
Under the Mediapolis Telephone project, about 850 addresses in an area encompassing the rural areas north of Fort Madison to Hwy. 16 could be served.
“I’m not going to say we should take credit for that, and when I say we, I mean Lee County Board of Supervisors, SIREPA, and Danville Telecom, but I think because we expressed interest and we got the ball rolling, I think it was imperative to those other companies that they claim a stake here as well,” he said.
The federal government has a BEAD program, which is a $42 billion broadband program, where funding is allocated to each state. Iowa’s share, according to Fencl, will be about $400 million.
“We won’t know the extent of that program until late 2024. Once that allocation and plan that Iowa puts together is approved, then we will have a better picture of what the funding looks like for Lee County and the rest of the state,” he said.

SIREPA, Southeast Iowa Regional & Economic Port , Danville Telecom, Tim Fencl, Mike Norris, Lee County, Board of Supervisors, news, Iowa, broadband, Internet, Pen City Current


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