Ammon Idaho Offers a Whole New Kind of Local Internet Choice

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“We’re not just building a Gigabit Fiber Network. We’re trying to change the paradigm,” described Bruce Patterson, Technology Director of the City of Ammon, Idaho in a recent video by ILSR and Next Century Cities. Ammon is a town reaching seven square miles and covering about 4,500 households. Although it is located in a very conservative area of the United States, Ammon built a fiber network to cut costs and serve public institutions with more modern and reliable Internet.  Now, it’s offering something it sees as even more conservative: it will offer its residents the choice to opt into receiving Internet service from the City’s open access, Fiber-to-the-Home network and to pay for that connection through their property taxes—a whole new kind of local Internet choice.

Ammon’s fiber future started around 2009, when the city government was suffering from poor upload speeds and so asked the local incumbent providers for pricing for a one-mile dedicated 100Mbps circuit connecting City Hall and the Public Works building. One of the local incumbents declined to make an offer, and the cable provider asked for an installation fee $80,000 plus $1,000 a month. According to Patterson, that is when the City realized it could build the network for less and access much higher capacity. They strategically connected fiber to their parks, public buildings, utilities, and fire departments, and then they reached out to local businesses. Said Patterson, “…you have to understand that if I buy, as an example, a bundle, a sheath with 48 fibers in it, I’m going to pay probably just under a dollar for that. If I buy a fiber with 144 fiber in it, I’m going to pay just over a dollar for that.” Fiber access became synonymous with city economic growth. The City was now able to utilize its excess fiber capacity and serve banks, local businesses and cellular towers in need of fiber.

By May 2015, the City was ready to take the next step to connect its residents to a Gigabit future, but without using tax dollars. The City will extend its dark fiber network to every home that “opts in” to being served. Being served mean having the ability to switch ISP providers within seconds over the City’s open access network. According to Patterson, the City’s financing structure utilizes a state law provision in an entirely new way. The City created a Local Improvement District (LID). Residents in those five subdivisions can chose whether to “opt in” or “opt out” of the city’s fiber network. Residents who chose to opt in can either pay $3,000 up front or about $20 per month for 20 years through their property taxes. If a resident does not want fiber connectivity, there is no assessment on that resident’s property tax. Fifty percent (50%), 188 of 376 individual property owners, have already opted in.

According to Ammon’s Mayor, Dana Kirkham: “We actually went out to the private sector [communication providers] and said ‘Is there interest here? And the response was ‘The economy of scale simply isn’t there.’ We were left in the situation of realizing, recognizing early on, that we would be the last served, and that we would have a single provider. There would not be any choice for our citizens.”

Paying for the City’s fiber network only if you use it and then having the ability to change providers at the touch of a button — Ammon, Idaho calls it “The Ammon Model,” but maybe others would see it as the ultimate model of local Internet choice.