City, FMTC weigh in on fiber pedestals

Members of the Red Oak City Council and Red Oak’s mayor have begun addressing citizen concerns regarding the Farmers Mutual Telephone Company’s (FMTC) decision to place pedestals to carry out its new fiber project.
Mayor Shawnna Silvius said that initially, FMTC announced in early March that it would be bringing fiber to Red Oak. However, the Red Oak City Council board members were not aware that pedestals would be used instead of vaults.
“As far as the pedestals, I mean, how would we have ever known they (FMTC) were going to be putting pedestals in?” Silvius said. “They’ve never done it before. They’ve always used vaults.”
Adding to Silvius’ statement, Councilman Tim Fridolph chimed in by expressing that though FMTC did show its engineering plans to the board, clearer communication was necessary in order for the board members to ensure the company’s plan was fully understood.
“From my standpoint, I would look at it as that when you are going to be doing something that is kind of the polar opposite of what you’ve done before, I would think that should have been clearly communicated because we, as a city, had every reasonable expectation to believe these would be vaults,” he said.
In the past, placing vaults opposed to pedestals had been standard practice in Red Oak and neighboring communities such as Stanton and Villisca. Therefore, Fridolph said he did not feel a need to look deeper into the plans.
“I’m not an engineer,” he said. “I can’t be expected to decipher those plans.”
Fridolph also stated that typically, the council is not presented with engineering plans, as it does not have final authorization over whether those plans take place.
Continuing with this point, Fridolph said that during the meeting at which FMTC showed the council its plans, the project was advertised as “it’s all buried.” This led the council to be under the impression that the fiber would be underground.
“We (the council) had no chance or time to even explain to the residents of what was coming, which I think is unfair to them, because again, I’m sure they had the same expectation, given what previous work had been done,” he said.
Though he asked FMTC how many pedestals would be placed throughout Red Oak, Fridolph was not given a number or an estimate. However, the council is continuing to seek out this information.
In a conversation with FMTC’s contractor, Fridolph, Councilwoman Sharon Bradley and Bri Sorensen, City Attorney, Silvius learned that the pedestals would not be temporary. As a result, she inquired about potentially replacing them over time and about the associated cost analysis.
“We basically learned that it was about a $1 million difference to use the pedestals versus the vaults,” she said. “So it made this project more economical for them (FMTC).”
Silvius then discussed that in the past, the reason FMTC had not been building out of Red Oak is because the city had been considered “100% served.” Therefore, Fridolph said that FMTC was unable to get funding for this project until recently.
Adding to this point, Silvius said the council was told by past administration that the franchise fee Mediacom had with the city would be violated if another carrier were to be brought in. However, she recently learned this franchise fee expired in 2017, meaning FMTC could have built here, but the city was unaware of that fact.
“We would really like them (FMTC) to consider making sure they can put them (pedestals) in alleys wherever possible, in the backsides of properties,” Silvius said.
When the city council approached FMTC to ask about placing vaults instead of pedestals, the answer was “no.” However, the city is in need of fiber, as it is a “critical and essential communication utility,” according to Silvius.
FMTC is currently placing the fiber system network. There will then be vaults connected to the pedestals already placed, and pedestals may appear in front of homes. The council is both working on a solution to make the pedestals more visually appealing and striving to gather further information.
In the case that accidental or unintentional damage is made to a pedestal, such as a snowplow or snow damage, the homeowner will not be held responsible to pay for repairs. FMTC will repair and replace them when necessary.
FMTC Chief Executive Officer Doug Pals also spoke on the fiber project. Pals said the use of pedestals in Red Oak and Clarinda in the 2024 build areas was a cost savings that made the project economically viable in both communities.
“Using peds allowed a $2 million cost savings. The communities have been working to get fiber internet into them. We have been investing to bring fiber there over the years, as we could afford to do so. We have been working to get access to low-cost loans or grants to help with the costs of the projects, but the programs available and their respective rules deemed communities not eligible for that funding. Therefore, if we wanted to do the project, we needed to find methods to lower the costs of the project, to make it economically viable,” explained Pals.
Pals said building fiber networks is very expensive, and beyond that about the time it is paid off, significant reinvestment in new electronics is needed, most often to accommodate the extensive growth in bandwidth usage by customers or to adhere to security requirements.
“The total ‘24 project costs in the Red Oak and Clarinda build areas are anticipated to be $10-$11 million, and the project is funded by FMTC using traditional financing – because the communities don’t qualify for the funding from the programs we have used previously,” Pals said.
Pals also said there seemed to be an expectation that the entire Red Oak project would be done with vaults instead of pedestals, and Pals apologized for the misunderstanding.
“We always intended to use peds for these projects – to make the project financially viable. We suspect that people looked at how we had built networks in the past, but understandably they likely did not have complete understanding about how the circumstances, funding parameters and timelines impacted those decisions,” advised Pals. “We wanted to use pedestals for our recent rural projects around Red Oak, Clarinda and others, but because those projects were engineered and approved before COVID, we could not change the engineering to move to pedestals after construction, labor and electronics costs increased by at least 30% because of COVID. Bids for those projects came in $3 million higher than expected, and changing to pedestals would have significantly reduced that overage.
Pals also added that the network that is being built in Red Oak and Clarinda is as good or better than what FMTC has in other areas.
“The peds do not impact the quality of the network, only lower our cost to construct it. This portion of our network will be 10Gig capable, which reflects the upgraded electronics that are available to us today that were not available previously. The 10Gig network sets the communities up for today and the future,” stated Pals. “How we are building this network reflects our desire to do two things: to grow our company, and with our ’24 project areas, to help two county seat towns get the fiber they need – to help them continue to be successful. To allow us to do this, we needed to find a way to make the numbers work. Saving $2 million on this year’s builds, and more or future builds, made the project possible.“
Because the network is being built to serve everyone in the build area, Pals said peds will be installed no matter if that homeowner signs up today for service. This way when customers in that area sign up, FMTC can get them the fiber Internet they want and need.
“All are put in the public right of way, which is intended for this purpose. We are putting all possible peds in back or in alley areas; some places that is not possible because of utility density. If not in back, our second choice is in front on/near lot line, if not there, in the most out-of-the way place, still in right-of-way, that avoids other utilities. There are a lot of underground utilities that must be avoided, and some areas are full and no longer allow room for another utility – which is what causes us to have to move to a second or third location choice,” commented Pals.
Pals also said the pedestals will not be fragile, and can hold up to things such as mowing.
“Since there are other pedestals and utility boxes in most yards, we suspect that people are used to dealing with them regarding mowing and the like. There is certainly a chance that some of them may be impacted by snow removal, but the pedestals are rather tough and can withstand most normal circumstances,” explained Pals.
Ultimately, Pals said FMTC is a local company trying to bring a product that the community leaders have been working to get, and that FMTC knows customers want and need.
“We understand why customers may feel the way that they do. It does hurt somewhat hearing and seeing some comments because our intention with this project is to invest in and provide fiber internet to benefit customers, which is something that current providers have not done,” stated Pals.
Pals said FMTC will do whatever it can to make the construction of the new fiber as minor an impact as possible.
“We are very pleased with our staff and our contract partners. They are doing all they can to minimize disruption to residents and make the construction go as smoothly as possible. No construction project is perfect, and we always encourage people to think about the great benefits of fiber Internet – and all of the bumps will be worth it in the end,” Pals said. “We are sorry this occurred, and we are working with all to minimize the impact of construction. We know that new things, even if they are bringing something great like fiber Internet, can be disruptive. We believe FMTC Fiber Internet is worth it.”

The Red Oak Express

2012 Commerce Drive
P.O. Box 377
Red Oak, IA 51566
Phone: 712-623-2566 Fax: 712-623-2568

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