Community Votes for Holland BPW Fiber
As Holland’s municipal utility, our purpose is to help our local community flourish. The people of Holland gave future generations an advantage when they voted to make Holland BPW a public entity in 1893. Today, Holland residents and businesses benefit from local, reliable, and affordable utility services. On August 2, 2022, the people of Holland again decided to make a mark that would be revolutionary for the future. A vote was passed in favor of a millage that will enable the citywide expansion of Holland BPW Fiber.
Broadband development has been a priority in the City of Holland’s strategic plan for a number of years. Community leaders listened to Holland residents who called for access to Holland BPW’s fiber network, knowing the value of community-owned broadband. Thirty years ago, Holland BPW made an innovative choice to use fiber optic cable to advance utility telecommunication technologies. Furthermore, the network was built with the foresight of extra capacity to support an open-access network. It did not take long for local anchor institutions to join the Holland BPW fiber network. The Ottawa Area Intermediate School District (OAISD) needed connectivity that wasn’t available from anyone else. Others also joined, including telecommunications companies that offer services over the Holland BPW fiber network.
For a long time, Holland BPW Broadband Services served the needs of larger businesses and organizations while continually hearing from Holland residents who want access to high-speed internet that fiber to the home would allow. City Council challenged Holland BPW to serve its high-speed reliable internet to more people. From there, the Downtown Shared-Gig pilot was born. The Shared-Gig project gave Holland BPW the opportunity to create and test a model for residential and multi-dwelling broadband services. After a year, Holland BPW gained 200 Shared-Gig customers. Feedback about the speed and reliability of the connection was extraordinarily positive. Holland BPW also received rave reviews about top-notch customer support. As a result, City Council raised the bar once again and asked for a plan for how to make Holland BPW fiber a reality for every address in Holland.
To meet this new challenge, Dave Koster, General Manager of Holland BPW, and Keith Van Beek, City Manager of Holland, formed a broadband task force. The task force dove into financial feasibility and community engagement. Holland’s tried and true community engagement process was put into action to understand the challenges, needs, and perspectives of the community related to broadband access. The task force met with focus groups representing education, healthcare, nonprofits, older adults, real estate, local neighborhoods, economic development, and diverse populations and discussed the importance of quality internet connections and the value of a locally owned community-operated broadband service. Coping through the pandemic resulted in a consensus that a community-owned fiber network would be an instrumental innovation for the City of Holland. This was not simply a nice idea, but rather a growing and urgent need.
The remaining questions were how soon can this be done and how much will it cost? A detailed financial study indicated that the fastest and most equitable way to make Holland BPW fiber available citywide would be through community investment. A community survey in 2022 reinforced support for the value of community-owned fiber. The way forward required a community decision.
On the Ballot
On April 20, 2022, Holland City Council approved ballot language for the August 2 election, which would allow Holland BPW to secure a loan to invest in fiber infrastructure of up to $30M that could be repaid over the course of up to 25 years with funds generated by a millage.
Committed to providing clear and transparent information about the millage proposal, Holland BPW created an educational initiative coined Holland City Fiber. The goal was to help voters make informed decisions. Various methods were used to provide access to information about the plan. A website, HollandCityFiber.com, made information available around the clock so that residents could explore the plan at their convenience. The full plan was discussed with community members in a series of public meetings. The meetings were held at various times and locations, like Herrick District Library and Evergreen Commons, to ensure that they were easily accessible to anyone who was interested. Social media was used as a tool for education and helped increase awareness of the vote. Informational postcards were sent to City of Holland homes to reach those who engage less online. The proposal earned a lot of media attention as well.
On election day, the people of Holland moved in favor of the value of community-owned infrastructure, and decided to make an investment in citywide Holland BPW fiber. The broadband Millage proposal passed.
Holland BPW will remain transparent throughout the entire design and build process. To stay up to date through the engineering and construction process please visit the Holland City Fiber website.