Why Fiber Impacts Economic Development

  • Published 2021-06-17

Holland BPW and the City of Holland view a fiber-to-the-home (FFTH) network that reaches every address as an opportunity to thrive in economic development. Economic development is the process of “improving the economic well-being of a community through efforts that entail job creation, job retention, tax base enhancements and quality of life” (Baller, Hovis, Stelfox, 2016). Through economic development initiatives, local governments work together with the business community to ensure proper infrastructure, housing, opportunities, and amenities are available to create a place where people can flourish.

Taking a pro-active approach to economic development puts economic control into the hands of the local community. What does a town need to make people want to live there? It needs good jobs, attainable housing, quality schools, and enjoyable activities. What does it need to get good jobs? Reliable and affordable electricity, adequate roads, a talent pool, and high-speed internet access. “Site selectors report that communities that lack suitable broadband infrastructure are routinely eliminated from consideration as potential sites for location or relocation” (Baller, Hovis, Stelfox, 2016).

Jennifer Owens, President of Lakeshore Advantage, believes that a ubiquitous fiber network in Holland would attract best in class talent to our community. “If you have the people, you will attract the businesses. Fiber is a quintessential need for these people. So in order to set ourselves up for the future, we need it. Our community will continue to design and build things. To attract the best talent and continue to grow, we will need to have enhanced internet.”

Big businesses are transitioning to work-from-home environments. More and more, people can both work and live where they want without geographical limitations. This is a new opportunity for Holland, as a community that is very appealing. Holland has received many accolades for being a great place to live, including “America’s Prettiest Towns” (Forbes) and #3 “Top Ten Best Places for Families” (Livability). Holland is sure to be attractive to new comers who could enhance the local economy. “People leave Silicon Valley because of cost of living. If we have the ability to support their needs they will move here,” hypothesized Andy Bass.

According to Community Networks Municipal Map (2020), there are 63 municipal fiber to the home networks serving 125 communities with a publicly owned fiber-to-the-home citywide network. Chattanooga is known as Gig City for its municipal fiber network that boasts gigabit-per-second internet speeds. After a decade of operating a community-owned fiber network, Chattanooga had a research study done to find out what value the project brought to the city. “The research found the project’s value exceeded costs by more than $2.2 billion. Some impacted categories include business investment, startup funding, real estate development, the smart grid, business productivity, consumer surplus, residential bill savings, health care, telecommuting, education and publicity” (Associated Press, 2021).

“In fact, a 2014 Fiber Broadband Association study found higher per capita GDP (1.1%) in communities where gigabit Internet was available. In dollar terms, the 14 gigabit communities analyzed by the Fiber Broadband Association enjoyed approximately $1.4 billion in additional GDP over other, similarly situated communities” (Fiber Broadband Association: Economic Impact, n.d.).

Holland’s Broadband Taskforce learned through a listening tour that community leaders representing the range of demographic interests in Holland feel a community-owned FFTH network has long term potential to be a revenue generator for the community as whole. Operations of all sorts would be able to gain efficiencies, more customers, and higher quality of service if they had higher quality broadband.

The longer the capability is in place, the more unanticipated and new applications of the service will be discovered. Looking to the past, we see how electrification rapidly shaped Holland’s economy. The city started with streetlights downtown and quickly shop owners beckoned for lights in order to be open later into the evening. Innovation came from having the service and opening the door to opportunity.

Community-owned fiber infrastructure would lay the groundwork for the next evolution of Holland’s economy. Holland BPW has a proven track record for reliability and affordability. The utility has the expertise to build a state-of-the-art fiber-to-the-home network. It is an opportunity for local control of Holland’s future. Approaching FFTH as public infrastructure brings advantages for financing the project over a long period of time, making incremental costs more affordable for the customer. “Our mission is to enrich lives. We want to build a community that allows the people here to thrive.” expressed Dave Koster, General Manager of Holland BPW.