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City Moves Toward Communication Utility

By Staff | Apr 2, 2013

Emmetsburg City Council and Emmetsburg Municipal Utilities took another step toward establishing a communication utility last week. The City Council adopted an ordinance establishing the Board of Trustees of the Emmetsburg Municipal Communications Utility.

Ordinance #557 references the May 5, 1998 vote of the residents of Emmetsburg to establish a municipal cable communications or television system (including video, voice, telephone, data or any other form of telecommunications and cable communications). The new utility will be under the management and control of the Board of Trustees of Emmetsburg Municipal Utilities.

Emmetsburg City Administrator John Bird and DJ Weber, General Manager of TCA (The Community Agency) talked about the utility and partnership with TCA.

“The ordinance passed its first reading and the city is just now taking the first step that we were authorized to do when the referendum was held and that is to create a communications utility,” said gird. “The City Council also, and the Board of Trustees, too, authorized the mayor and the board chair to sign engagement letters with Ahlers Law Firm of Des Moines. They (Ahlers) are going to assist us in creating the utility and assisting us as Emmetsburg Municipal Utilities moves forward where the sale of revenue bonds is concerned. They’re going to be our bond counsel.”

Bird explained the financing.

“The dollars that will finance the construction of the system, primarily, will be generated by the sale of municipal revenue bonds,” explained Bird. “The Board of Trustees intends to use some existing cash revenues, which they can do for the purpose of constructing the system, because there will be some benefit to existing utilities. We’re moving toward a bid date, and we’re moving toward preparing ithto make a public offering for the bonds.”

Emmetsburg will be joining TCA, originally known as The Community Cable Television Agency of O’Brien County and now referred to as The Community Agency. The four communities involved with TCA are Hartley, Paulina, Primghar and Sanborn.

Emmetsburg began talks with TCA less than a year ago. TCA provides telephony, cable television and internet services, plus features off those same services that include WiFi, cellular and wireless internet.

“They’re experienced and they’re doing it well over there,” said Bird. “GJ is highly regarded in the state; most people think he’s the best. We’re going to join this multi-community agency.

“It’s important for our readers to know that when the Board (of Trustees) started talking about this late last summer, their reasons for wanting to get into this (communications utility) are noble. Their goals, their objectives are noble from an industrial and economic development standpoint,” Bird noted.

He continued, “They believe that we’re at a gross disadvantage, considering today’s global economy. In the global market, people can work from their home in Emmetsburg, Iowa, for a corporation located anywhere in the world, or higher tech industries who really need quality, high speed broadband. We’re at a disadvantage.”

Weber added, “We want to be able to offer a competitive and high quality network and the cit is going to step forward and offer that kind of a network. The city feels, at this point, that local service providers have not stepped up to meet the demands of the community of Emmetsburg today, so they’re going to move forward.

“I can tell you from our experience with the communities that we have, our city has stepped up and the people that compete against us also stepped up their service offerings and stepped up their customer service. From that standpoint, who’s the winner? The citizens of the community are the winner because they get better services,” Weber said.

“The board also knows that in communities around the state that have broadband businesses, the incumbent providers have lowered their charges for the services they provide,” added Bird. “Even though Emmetsburg Municipal Communications Utility, in the end, may not offer the cheapest, least expensive service, for consumers, their monthly bills for telephone, internet and cable TV are going to decrease. From a consumer’s point of view, it’s a win/win.

“EMU’s concern is that we generate enough revenue to service the debt, ongoing operation and maintenance, and upgrades as they become necessary, If EMU can do those things through it’s relationship with TCA, then the board has achieved their objectives. They’re saving the consumers money and they’re providing state-of-the-art broadband services,” Bird continued.

Bird explained, when Larry Butler did the study of a communications utility for Emmetsburg in 1998, the investment to build the system was just over $10 million. Now, to put in a total fiber to the home system, the cost is less than 70-percent of the estimated cost back then.

“From that point of view, we did something right,” said Bird.

“It comes back to the commitment of the community,” added Weber. “We’ve said this all along to John, the council and the utility board and the staff, it really comes back, ultimately, to the citizens of this community.”

He continued, “It’s a good thing for the city and it’s a good thing to take pride in your community, take pride in how your community is shaped.”

There will be a technician located in Emmetsburg, and a citizen from each community sits on the programming board to decide the channels for cable television.

“This is your utility,” stressed Weber. “A citizen of this community will sit on my board and will answer to this board (EMU Trustees), which ultimately answers to the council and ultimately answers to the citizens. It’s your utility.”

TCA is in the process with three city councils and one board of trustees, to amend the 28E agreement so they can accept new members.