Phase one of broadband project nears completion

Many businesses covered, emphasis switches to residential

ROCK FALLS – The first phase of the city's broadband buildout, covering the business corridor, should be completed by the end of the month.

The initial infrastructure for Rock Falls Fibernet is being put in place to cover businesses in the areas of First Avenue, U.S. 30 and Interstate 88, which is being heavily marketed to developers. The industrial parks are included in the first phase.

About nine businesses already are using the city's broadband services, which includes 1-gigabit Internet that reaches speeds of up to 1,000 megabits per second. Last year, Rock Falls became only the 111th city nationwide to achieve gigabit status.

With the backbone nearly in place, the marketing efforts will heat up for residential customers. The residential service areas are divided into fiberhoods that each contain about 200 homes. To mitigate financial risk, buildouts will not be done in a fiberhood until 45 percent of its prospective customers sign up for the 1-gigabit broadband service.

Some households won't have to wait for service if they are fortunate enough to be located close enough to the business infrastructure.

"While doing the buildout, we had to go off a block or so in certain areas before getting back to the main roads," said Wayne Shafer, the city's broadband supervisor. "So if you're close to the business areas, give us a call or just sign up, and we'll be in touch."

Those areas include a few blocks near the Crystal Lake RV Park at 600 E. 17th St., a stretch near City Hall, and some homes on the west end of Route 30.

A $100 deposit was required with sign-up, but the city has waived that fee. There is a $100 installation fee, which won't be due until the customer targets are met in a neighborhood.

For businesses outside the backbone area, Shafer suggests they call the department.

"We covered a large percentage of the city's businesses in phase one, but we'll analyze the others independently," he said.

In April 2017, the City Council approved the use of up to $5.3 million in its first bond issuance to fund the first phase of the buildout, and a cap of $13 million for the duration of the project. The bonds also will cover the department's first 3 years of operating expenses.

The city had set the stage for building a fiber-optic network many years ago. When the electric department put dark (unused) fiber in the ground for its substations and other needs, about twice the amount needed was put in. The broadband project costs less now that the expensive engineering and construction work had already been done by the electric department.

Mayor Bill Wescott featured the project in last year's State of the City address, saying that the broadband utility was being set up in response to requests from businesses and residents.

"The time is now to advance the Internet in Rock Falls," Wescott said. "This will be a locally owned service, providing jobs, new business, residential, and economic development opportunities."

Businesses and residents can get more information and sign up for city broadband services at the website.

Fibernet prices

Monthly residential service

250 megabits per second - $75

1,000 Mbps (1 gigabit) - $125

Monthly business service

250 Mbps - $150

500 Mbps - $275

1,000 Mbps - $375