Holland Community Broadband – The City of Holland and Holland Board of Public Works are looking into the possibility of expanding the fiber-optic system to provide enhanced broadband 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 exceptional investment. Our design for broadband infrastructure is future-enabling, having enough bandwidth and durability to last for decades. 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. We are looking at solutions that could potentially be replicated by other communities.
1000 Mbps Open-Access Network
Current standards from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) require that broadband services have a download speed of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) and an upload speed of 3 Mbps. 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 up to 1000 Mbps for both upload and download speeds. We could deploy this 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 down prices, and maintaining a higher standard of quality service. Building a fiber-optic network as infrastructure enables a competitive situation, where a variety of services come to you.
Erasing the Digital Divide
Participants in a 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, former 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, using a millage or other option, keeping the incremental cost to Holland citizens and businesses low. Utility infrastructure is commonly funded this way.
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?
Engage in this conversation!
Visit fiber.hollandbpw.com for educational resources about broadband and the progress of the Broadband Task force. Share your thoughts on social media on the Holland Community Broadband Facebook page or with #hollandcommunitybroadband.
The Frost Center for Data and Research at Hope College was contracted by the Holland BPW to conduct a survey of residential and business customers about Internet usage and opinions on community-owned broadband.
- The Frost Center sent 12,587 online survey invitations via email to residential and business HBPW customers.
- Postcards with survey link/QR code and information were distributed to organizations with populations typically underrepresented in survey responses.
- 3,443 surveys were started and 2,919 were completed, yielding a 23% response rate.
- 2,755 respondents completed the survey as a resident and 66 as a business. 98 identified as neither a resident nor business and did not receive subsequent survey questions.
- The survey was open April 1-30, during which time two reminders were sent to non-respondents.
- The data was weighted to correct for any sampling imbalances using an iterative raking method.
Survey data shows that 18-34 year olds are the largest users of the Internet for entertainment. 35-59 year olds are the largest users of the Internet for lifestyle purposes like school, work, banking and healthcare. As these populations age, Internet use will increase in every dynamic.
New uses for the Internet will continue to develop and evolve. The healthcare industry is investing in telemedicine. Online education at all grade levels will continue to grow. More people will have the opportunity to work from home. Entrepreneurship of online businesses will continue to expand. Multimedia entertainment is here to stay. As technology advances, there will be a greater demand on data networks. All of these areas require a high-speed stable internet connection.
The importance of the Internet in our lives is continuously increasing. A high-speed, fiber-to-the-home network would prepare Holland for unforeseen opportunities. This future-enabling community-owned infrastructure would be an innovation that sets us ahead of the curve.
The choice to invest in a community-owned fiber network is in the hands of the people of Holland. Our vision is for every address in the City of Holland to have access to high speed, reliable fiber-optic broadband. We worked with Frost Center for Data and Research to conduct a survey that gives insight into how the community feels about further development of Holland BPW’s fiber network. The results identify strong support for the idea that all residents should have the ability to have high speed access to the Internet. Also, most residents want lower costs and more reliable Internet service.
75% report that they support that all
residents have access to the Internet.
70.4% report that they want lower Internet costs.
61.1% report that they want more reliable Internet.
We predict that the future will heighten demands on the network and increase the need for high speed Internet access. A community-level investment in future-enabling broadband infrastructure would be a step that prepares Holland for new and unforeseen opportunities. As we continue our research and development of a plan for how to build fiber to every address in our city, we ask you to engage in the conversation. This is a community decision. Share your voice with #hollandcommunitybroadband. Learn more at fiber.hollandbpw.com.