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Local

Rock Falls considering more broadband options

Consultant will present new plan to council

ROCK FALLS – The city has called a special meeting that could go a long way in determining the future of its broadband business.

A representative from Magellan Advisors, the Denver-based technology services consulting firm used by the city, will be in town for a Committee of the Whole meeting at
6 p.m. Monday in council chambers at City Hall.

The city has had dark-fiber infrastructure in the ground for many years, and the fiber-optic network can be built out to expand its broadband offerings for commercial and residential customers.

The network has the potential to be a revenue generator because of its bandwidth and connectivity capabilities. The city already has some business customers, including CGH Medical Center and KSB Hospital.

Magellan put together a strategic plan for the city and presented it in December 2014, but a feasibility study concluded the city was best-suited to stick with providing business services. The new plan, however, will focus on the possibility of providing Internet, data and voice services for business and residential customers.

“Magellan is going to present a plan we think might work,” Mayor Bill Wescott said. “There are a lot of things we could do if we invested in a buildout.”

The newest plan has been discussed by the city’s electric committee, but the mayor wanted to put it under the microscope for the entire council.

“Not all of the aldermen are on that committee, and we wanted to give everyone on the council a chance to ask questions,” Wescott said.

The broadband business is now run by the city’s electric department, but expansion would likely create a need for a separate utility department. Electric Department Supervisor Dick Simon has done most of the work on the broadband business, including the coordination of plans with Magellan.

“We have thoughts of making it a separate utility in the back of our minds because buildouts would create a lot of work as the business grows,” Alderman Glen Kuhlemier said.

The electric department put in dark fiber for its own use, and also put in extra for future expansion. The most expensive part of putting in fiber-optic infrastructure is digging up the ground and installing conduit, while the less expensive buildout can be done later.

Former Mayor Dave Blanton said the city decided long ago the extra fiber would pay dividends later.

“Fiber was run from the hydroelectric plant, along East Third Street, and south near the old Reliant site because the electric office used to be there,” Blanton said. “We figured we’d just run it to City Hall, the water department, and then to the schools.”

During Blanton’s time as mayor, an opportunity presented itself through an Interstate 88 corridor infrastructure expansion project involving Northern Illinois University and its dark fiber.

“The project was coming from Batavia to Rochelle, and several cities, including Rock Falls, put up money to get it going,” Blanton said.

The partnerships formed enabled the $8 million fiber network project to be completed for $1.3 million. The participants were municipalities that had their own utilities, and needed the technology to exchange information.

In 2014, Magellan had estimated that a business services buildout would cost $700,000, and the city could expect to break even in 7 years. Numbers that include residential service will be available at the meeting.

WHAT’S NEXT

The Rock Falls Committee of the Whole will discuss the city's broadband plans when it meets at 6 p.m. Monday at City Hall, 603 W. 10th St. 

The agendas will be posted at rockfalls61071.net and at City Hall. Call 815-622-1100 for more information.

The meeting also airs live on Channel 5.

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