OTTUMWA — Without the right level of broadband Internet access, it's going to be tough to bring new employers to town.
Industry consultant Craig Settles was in Ottumwa from his home in Oakland, Calif., Thursday. He said businesses looking to build — or expand — want to know more about access to the Internet than how fast the system is.
Settles is working with Ottumwa Economic Development Corporation, said Executive Director David Barajas, to map out what businesses in town are looking for right now, as well as what they believe they'll need one, two or three years from now. Barajas and staff take the lead on "economic development" efforts, which includes finding companies that want to come to town. That job is easier when he can point to an improving school system, decent medical care, good transportation access via a new highway, a train and an airport.
"If we are going to attract new companies, that infrastructure has to be in place," Barajas said.
They and the current businesses of Ottumwa want to know there will be enough Internet "capacity" for their needs "today and tomorrow," he added.
What that means is, their development staff will be looking for more detail than is provided in advertising flyers to the public.
"When a provider lists a speed ... they're nearly always talking about download speed," Settles said.
That's the speed your home computer might download a YouTube video or photos emailed by the grandkids. What many home users don't concern themselves with is upload speed. How fast can a business here transmit blueprints or a patient's MRI? Can they have a teleconference with potential clients?
"There's a difference between broadband and Internet access," Settles said.
Some industry insiders say it's tough to trust government labels saying broadband is one certain speed, Settles said. For one thing, speed available and speed that is needed changes regularly. For another thing, some providers are reluctant to share what their limits are on the number of users who can get a particular speed at the same time. If you offer 100 megabyte speed, does that mean 25 people can get that at one time? Can 25,000 get that at the same time? Somewhere in between? Not only that, but there is not currently an industrywide measurement for capacity. We can see our computer in Ottumwa gets 100 megabyte of speed, but what is the "capacity" in our neighborhood? If all of us get on the 'net at 6 p.m., maybe we won't each get 100 megabytes of speed.