Vinton exploring idea of municipal-owned telecom service

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VINTON, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- More and more Iowa cities are looking for ways to bring faster internet connections to smaller communities or rural areas. For some, that’s means getting into the telecommunications business by offering internet, cable or phone services through city-owned fiber optic networks.

A worker at Monkeytown office supply in Vinton uploads an electronic file to a client. The owner says slow internet service in the community is hampering economic development.

And the Benton County community of Vinton is considering joining that list.

Back in 2015, about 88 percent of Vinton residents approved creating a city-owned telecom system. Right now, the city and the municipal electric utility are doing a feasibility study to see how much it might cost to build such a system that would provide fiber cable access to almost 2,000 homes and 250 businesses.

When that study is finished in the spring, Vinton Mayor John Watson says that will be the time to reach out to Vinton residents to tell them how much various services might cost and to see how many would be willing to sign up.

“Can we make the numbers work? Information we’ll get in the spring should help us make that determination,” Watson said.

Kurt Karr, owner of Monkeytown an online business supplies store, is one of the community business leaders lobbying hard for an increase in high speed broadband service.

Karr says slow internet speeds available now can be frustrating. One part of his business is video design work for companies. He says a video file that takes workers an hour to upload now to clients from their computers might take only a couple of minutes in a larger urban area with much faster internet connections.

And faster internet is not just a priority for some businesses.

“It’s how kids do their homework. How businesses function. It’s how we get our entertainment,” Karr said adding that the available of high speed internet is both a selling point to new residents and businesses and a necessity for economic development.

Mayor Watson says other telecom providers currently offering services in Vinton simply aren’t interested in investing the millions of dollars necessary to bring higher speed broadband service. That’s why Vinton is considering a city-owned service. Tom Richtsmeier, manager at Vinton Municipal Electric Utility, says some estimates are it would cost $3,000 to $4,000 per home to install fiber optic cable.

“Once we get the pricing back we’ll see if they’re still interested in having that brought into their home,” Richtsmeier said.

The mayor says with vast majority of people saying “yes” to creating a city-owned telecom in 2015 indicates some interested in having new choices for phone, internet and cable service. But community leaders won’t know for sure until they finish the study and see how many residents are interested in paying for a faster internet.