By SHARON STROH iMAN Communications and Business Relations
---- — I had the opportunity to meet the broadband delegation from Ottumwa who recently toured Steuben County, Ind. As one of the iMAN Fiber Network team members, I can assure you this was an incredible experience for both of our groups.
First, as I’ve learned more about your city and county, I’m surprised at the similarities in demographic information regarding size, population and median income.
And if I’ve done the math right, we even have roughly the same number of people employed in manufacturing industries, even though our unemployment rate is slightly higher.
The point I’m making is that we have more in common than one would think for two rural communities that are two states and about 450 miles apart. So why is this important?
It’s important because while we know Ottumwa is just beginning their exploration of fiber network options, Steuben County began that process over a dozen years ago, before the term “broadband” hit the national headlines and became the most recent economic development tool.
iMAN (Indiana Metropolitan Area Network) was carefully considered and developed for the same reasons David Barajas along with the Economic Development Corp. and Brad Little along with the Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation are seeking ways to develop it in Ottumwa … technology and its advances are requiring greater and greater speeds at which to transmit data.
It’s a requirement for school systems, colleges and universities as they compete for innovative ways to include students in STEM-related curriculum.
It’s a requirement for advanced manufacturing and engineering applications. It’s a requirement for healthcare, whether in a hospital, outpatient, medical imaging or telemedicine environment.
And it’s even a requirement for local government use, especially in areas such as public safety and homeland security.
If there are still people out there who don’t understand the importance of broadband infrastructure, consider this quote from the 2010 National Broadband Plan:
“Today, high-speed Internet is transforming the landscape of America more rapidly and more pervasively than earlier infrastructure networks. Like railroads and highways, broadband accelerates the velocity of commerce, reducing the costs of distance. Like electricity, it creates a platform for America’s creativity to lead in developing better ways to solve old problems. Like telephony and broadcasting, it expands our ability to communicate, inform and entertain. Broadband is the great infrastructure challenge of the early 21st century. But as with electricity and telephony, ubiquitous connections are means, not ends. It is what those connections enable that matters. Broadband is a platform to create today’s high-performance America.”
iMAN realizes it is just one model you are considering, and its premise is simple: provide a high-speed, high-security, reliable data infrastructure that can be utilized by a variety of businesses and service providers in a cost-effective way.
But perhaps even more important is its design that allows for the return of its profits from subscribers back to the community in the form of financial contributions to the community foundation for local grantmaking purposes.
In Steuben County, our dollars never leave the area where they are generated; no third vacation home for an out-of-state CEO, no corporate jet, no lavish conferences and junkets.
Our cities and towns use their financial resources to help construct bike trails, improve early-warning sirens, preserve natural resources and fund cultural events for family participation.
We know you won’t get that from other business models because it wasn’t here either. We created it to fulfill our needs and be the drivers of our own broadband destiny.
There were plenty of curious bystanders, so we held over 30 public and one-on-one meetings in and around our county so that we could be available for questions and constructive dialog regarding the model.
Amazingly, it was built one segment at a time based on need and financial capital available.
What began as a $150,000 investment by the City of Angola to connect its buildings (public safety, water works, parks & rec, sewer treatment, administration, etc …) soon developed into a plan to connect public education and hospital facilities along that initial route.
Today, the network covers over 82 miles and has a presence in all incorporated areas of our county, including each industrial complex, school, library, medical facility and government building.
It was paid for by grants and appropriations from business, industry, foundations and economic development resources, so there is no debt service.
It saves government and school budgets (and therefore taxpayers) approximately $550,000 annually, and it’s expected that when it reaches 160 connections, it will be generating over $430,000 in revenue each year.
That revenue pays for insurance, location service, network administration, additional deployment and grantmaking functions.
It is completely self-sustaining. And, because it is a nonprofit, it files its own IRS form 990, making it a transparent and accountable organization to the public as well.
The iMAN team would very much like to come visit your fair city, meet with community leaders and answer questions you may have about our fiber network model and how it’s different from a private business.
Again, iMAN thanks David Barajas, Megan Framke, Brad Little, Joe Helfenberger, and Shane Molyneux, along with consultant Craig Settles for their willingness to envision something new and exciting for the advancement of the Ottumwa area.
We enjoyed their time and interest.