Holland Community Broadband - The City of Holland and HBPW are looking into the possibility of expanding fiber-optic broadband to improve internet connectivity in our area. Currently a Broadband Taskforce is actively researching design and financial options for growing Holland’s fiber network.
Our vision is for every address in the City of Holland to have access to high speed, reliable, fiber-optic broadband. As a community, we have an opportunity to make this world-class investment. Should we be able to accomplish this as a community, we could stretch out the cost over a long period of time. Treating broadband as public infrastructure has advantages for the community as a whole. Residents, schools, and businesses all benefit. Currently, we are exploring how to accomplish this for the City of Holland. If that were to happen, it is possible that we could partner with other communities to enhance broadband access throughout our West Michigan region.
Current standards from the FCC require that broadband services have a download speed of 25Mbps and an upload speed of 3Mbps. The fiber network that we would build is exponentially faster. It is designed to meet the needs of our community well into the future. Our Shared-Gig service downtown provides speeds of 1000Mbps for both upload and download speeds. We could deploy the same technology throughout the city.
The model we are exploring is an open-access network. Open-access means that Holland BPW builds and maintains the fiber-optic infrastructure and creates a competitive market for those that provide products and services across the broadband network. With Holland BPW in charge of the infrastructure, you know that our commitment is here for the long haul. The community’s investment would be state of the art fiber infrastructure that is diligently maintained. Our community gains local control over an asset that will enhance the quality of life, bring more opportunities and increase the value of our city in many ways.
Allowing a competitive market means that you would have multiple choices for products and services. Competition benefits the community by offering choice, driving prices down, and maintaining a higher standard of quality service. To explain how this works, we use the analogy of roads. It is important for communities to provide infrastructure, like roads. However, the delivery drivers that use the roads operate privately to bring their services to you. Each delivery service does not build its own road; they all use the community infrastructure. Building a fiber-optic network as infrastructure enables a competitive situation, where a variety of services come to you.
Participants in the listening tour discussed how a ubiquitous fiber network in Holland would position our community to thrive well into the future. Ubiquitous means that we build the infrastructure to every address. The entire city gains access in the most efficient way possible. The end result would be affordable, fast, reliable internet service.
The digital divide is an economic, educational and social inequity that results from unequal access to computers and technology. With many students learning online, COVID-19 shined a light on the importance of closing the digital divide in our community. Education quickly became dependent on internet availability in homes in addition to schools. Our local schools experienced an eye-opening view of the digital divide as they adapted to accommodate online learning. Some students have sufficient access while others do not. Even when the schools provide computers, inconsistent broadband connections in homes create challenges for learning. Brian Davis, Superintendent of Holland Public Schools, described how the quality of bandwidth is not adequate. “We experience performance issues, latency and capacity challenges. Not everybody has access, whether that is because of affordability or location.” Latency, capacity and performance issues are disruptive to online learning; one student or teacher experiencing technical issues in a virtual meeting affects the entire class. The current bandwidth offering has limitations when there are multiple students in a home.
Jim Brooks, CEO Council Member of Talent 2025, explains how the digital divide impacts us as a community, competing for jobs, employers and talent. “The nature of work is changing. We are in a digital revolution that is as significant as the industrial age.” Industrial and clerical jobs are being automated; new knowledge and skills are needed. Digital access and knowledge is a key component of addressing diversity, equity, inclusion, income gap, and access to medical care. “We need to aspire to pretty close to universal to be sufficient.”
Community-owned fiber attracts businesses and talent. Other communities that have made this investment experienced increased property values and economic growth. Local real estate broker, Kyle Geenen, explained that the number one question from people looking to relocate in our community is about high speed internet. “Prospective home buyers ask about good internet.” When homes struggle with connectivity, the value is lower. Needs for internet access affect where people can live. The quality of internet impacts where businesses can locate too. Consider the possibilities if Holland’s high-speed fiber broadband was so good that it actually attracted businesses to our community. The opportunities for economic development would be vast. Jennifer Owens, President of Lakeshore Advantage, explained that “fiber is a quintessential need for setting ourselves up for the future. We need it to attract and retain businesses and talent.”
In order to build a ubiquitous fiber network, the community needs to invest in the infrastructure. As a public utility, we can spread the cost of this investment out over a long period of time. We are looking at fiber the same way as water mains, sewers and electricity. For-profit telecommunications companies need to realize the cost of their investments quickly. Their infrastructure costs are built into monthly user rates. Holland BPW could make internet access accessible to everyone by spreading the cost of the initial infrastructure build out over 20-30 years, such as a millage or other option, keeping the incremental cost to Holland citizens and businesses low. Utility infrastructure is commonly funded this way. As a public utility, if community support is there, we could spread the cost of investment over a long period of time.
The choice to invest in a community-owned fiber network is in the hands of the people of Holland. We see this as similar to our city’s early adoption of electricity. Once electric service became available, innovations that were unforeseen made a positive impact on our community. We electrified to turn on street lights and soon stores were able to remain open after dark. Electrification allowed our community to thrive. Holland invested in snowmelt, which makes a difference in the health and wellness of our people as well as being an economic driver for our downtown businesses. As a model community, we need to envision future uses for this type of infrastructure that we cannot name today. Will Holland once again choose the legacy of innovation? Will Holland invest in our current and future generations?
The next step of our broadband community engagement process is a survey. The purpose of the survey is to broaden our reach to the entire community. Our goal is to receive a representative sample of the voices of residents who reside in the city of Holland. We encourage you to complete the survey that will be distributed online by the Frost Institute.
Stay engaged in this conversation. We will be updating this blog frequently with educational resources about broadband and the progress of the Broadband Taskforce. Share your thoughts on social media #hollandcommunitybroadband and the Holland Community Broadband Facebook page.