HBPW’s fiber infrastructure network reaches the greater Holland Area as well as extending down Chicago Drive to Jenison. In order to offer fiber optic broadband services to every resident in the City of Holland, HBPW would need to build the last mile, connecting individual addresses to the pipeline. In 2015, the City of Holland’s strategic plan identified further broadband development as a key priority for the community. HBPW’s initial response was a pilot project in downtown Holland. The pilot resulted in HBPW’s Shared Gigabit broadband service that launched in 2018. After a year, the pilot was deemed a success and Holland City Council asked “what is next for HBPW fiber broadband services”? Holland Board of Public Works recommended a broadband task force to investigate scenarios for leveraging current and future fiber assets to expand access to broadband services in the City of Holland.
HBPW has studied other municipalities that have built complete fiber networks as infrastructure. In a favorable model, the utility provides the infrastructure, maintenance and an open access network of broadband services. “The benefit to the community is reliable infrastructure from a local utility that offers choice in quality services” (Becky Lehman, Business Services Director, 2019). “Our hypothesis is that a universal community-owned fiber broadband network would favorably position the City of Holland well into the future.”
The scope of the project requires a thorough investigation into different options to recover any investment, deployment options, and the perspective of the community. The Broadband Taskforce deployed in December 2019 to carry out the community engagement process. The objective of the taskforce is to uncover answers to these questions and recommend a direction for moving forward.
There are five stages to Holland Board of Public Works’ community engagement process:
1. Taskforce formation
2. Engagement and analysis
3. Concept and consensus
4. Refinement and delivery
By the end of June 2020, the formation stage was completed and engagement was underway. The taskforce was formed with an advisory group and working groups. The body of the groups are led by Koster and Van Beek collectively. The advisory group includes a diverse assembly of community leaders identified as key stakeholders. The working groups are cross functional teams made up of staff from the Holland Board of Public Works and the City of Holland. The working groups have clearly defined roles and will perform the work needed to accomplish the goals of the task force.
The engagement stage started with a listening tour. The listening tour involved virtual meetings with nine groups that represent a broad spectrum of populations within the community. The purpose was to gain a well-rounded understanding of how the City of Holland uses broadband and where needs are headed in the future. The Taskforce expects to complete the community engagement process by the Spring of 2021.
The past year has been a challenging one both for the HBPW and for our community. The pandemic has forced us to find different ways to learn, work, and stay engaged with friends and family. “Through our experiences at HBPW and the Taskforce listening tour, we have learned that broadband plays a crucial role in helping our residents and businesses remain connected in all that they do” explains Pete Hoffswell, Broadband Services Superintendent. “The Taskforce is committed to understanding how valuable a community-owned broadband structure is today, and how it will help our community be the best place to live and work tomorrow.”