Dubuque City Council learns more about broadband, municipal internet in work session

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DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- A group in Dubuque is concerned about the future of the internet, so it's asking city leaders to create a municipal internet service.

Monday night, the Dubuque City Council held a work session to learn more about broadband capacity, access and equity, but also to consider the feasibility of a public internet.

Council heard from Dave Lyons, Sustainable Innovation Consultant with Greater Dubuque Development, about the current state of broadband access in Dubuque. Lyons says the city has doubled the amount of conduit - the pipes that hold fiber cables - inside the city since 2015. This has allowed for public and private partnerships, including the city leasing its conduit to private internet service providers.

Lyons said the city has also seen a growth in providers from three to nine since 2015. However, he admits that this has mainly benefited businesses and not residents. He said the city is working to encourage private providers to expand to residential homes or to speed up the process.

"The city is actually looking at its infrastructure to be able to overcome those barriers so that we can have universal access in Dubuque, which would be public and privately supported," he said.

But the group Campaign for Dubuque Municipal Internet wants to see the city move away from these partnerships and go it alone.

Christine Darr spoke on behalf of the group on Monday night. She said they collected more than 600 signatures on a petition which requests the city council to conduct a feasibility study.

She believes a democratically owned internet service could protect citizens from businesses that might take advantage of less federal regulations.

"While many ISPs insist that they will not block or throttle connections, there is ample evidence in our country's history demonstrating that a pledge is not sufficient," she said to the council.

Dubuque resident John Swift said he would like to see more internet options, including a municipal option. He relies heavily on internet for his job, and he said he's not happy with the packages his provider offers.

"Their whole scheme in general is confusing and it seems arbitrary," he said.

The city conducted a study regarding municipal internet in 2005 which cost $89,900. It concluded municipal internet could cost anywhere from $8.5 million to $82 million, with annual expenses ranging from $1 to $2 million.

Today, Lyons estimates a feasibility study could cost the city $75,000 to $100,000. He said an initial cost to set up the service would range from $40 to $80 million, with annual expenses of $3 to $4 million.

Lyons said a city can face many challenges in creating a municipal internet service. He said the city needs to attract and retain quality employees. A city must also keep up with changing technologies. He also added the infrastructure is expensive.

The city council will take this information into consideration at their next goal setting session in August. If they list municipal internet as a priority, then they'll look into conducting a feasibility study.