Council considers action on fiber project

The Red Oak City Council is continuing to consider its options in regards to FMTC fiber internet.
Backlash has occurred in the community over the revelation that the fiber internet will not be installed using a vault system, and instead will be implemented using pedestals located in either the parking or city right-of-way alleys at spots around the community.
Red Oak Mayor Shawnna Silvius said a meeting had taken place with FMTC officials. Silvius also said the council should consider a public statement, though they were hampered in putting one out due to open meetings laws and the inability to meet as a group outside of a meeting setting.
Silvius said the FMTC meeting involved Silvius, Councilpersons Tim Fridolph and Sharon Bradley, and city attorney Bri Sorensen with FMTC officials.
“Kevin Cabbage was present, as well as a contractor who is putting the infrastructure in, and a couple of other members. We talked about the miscommunication and the fact that we were not aware pedestals would be used, the challenges with permitting and the city’s lack of a permitting process for a utility right of way, and where the breakdown occurred,” Silvius said. “We offered alternatives, and asked if this was temporary and if they would be temporary and if they planned to replace the pedestals with vaults. We were told it was not temporary. We also asked if they could be replaced over a period of time, and we were told there’s no intention to replace the pedestals with vaults.”
Silvius also shared that the meeting discussion focused on the fact that the city assumed, based on traditional business methods and the fact that they put fiber in the community using the vaults in 2022 and 2023, and that they have their own 3D printer that prints the vaults, that the city expected them, and was not getting them.
“They explained to us that they felt it was an opportunity to finally get fiber to Red Oak, and the cost of the vaults was cost-prohibitive, to the tune of approximately $1 million per community for us and Clarinda and Corning and Bedford. Myself and the city hall staff have all gotten calls from people expressing concerns, but I’ve also had calls from people that aren’t happy about them, but are happy for the service,” advised Silvius. “I feel like we left the meeting feeling that if we didn’t allow it to proceed, that they would leave the community.”
Bradley interjected that the FMTC members in the meeting basically told the city that they would leave the community if it declined the pedestals.
Councilperson Brian Bills made his dissatisfaction over the pedestals very clear.
“I’m against a private company dictating to Red Oak what we do with our right-of-ways. Those are city right-of-ways. We were not sold this. Every meeting we had to the point was underground vaults. Everything they’d done to the point was using underground vaults. Pedestals were never in the conversation, and they’re an eyesore. I don’t want one in my front yard,” Bills advised.
Bills added they had conversations with their competitor and the competitor wanted to use pedestals.
“They had no intention of using pedestals when they approached us. We had a meeting there, and they toured us and showed us the 3D printer and showed us how it worked,” Bills said.
Councilperson Adam Hietbrink said the city may be stuck, as FMTC was already digging and tearing up yards to put equipment in. Bills felt that shouldn’t continue. Councilperson John Haidsiak agreed.
“I don’t appreciate a private business standing with a gun to my head and telling me that they’re going to do something and that I can’t do anything about it,” Haidsiak said.
Hietbrink said that when FMTC spoke to them, they were told Red Oak was getting the same services that they had in Stanton.
Silvius said if the city served them a cease and desist, they would stop the project, leave Red Oak as it was, and probably would not come back. Bills said that he felt FMTC had sold the city on a completely different product and Bills was not willing to accept the alternative.
“We own the right-of-way. It’s our utility right of way, and we have the option. I’m sorry, I represent the people of the community. That’s going to detract from property values and curb appeal. I don’t want it and I can’t imagine anyone else wanting it,” explained Bills. “All FMTC has to do is give us what they promised us, and that is underground vaults. If they had come to us and said they want to do the fiber but they couldn’t do what they sold us and needed to do pedestals instead, we might have had a different response to their query.”
Silvius said one problem with the project is that Red Oak is considered served by another provider, and FMTC has been unable to qualify for the funding they’ve gotten on all the other projects, except for north fourth. Bills countered that the city should not be willing to accept less than what it was sold.
Silvius agreed that the right-of-way did belong to the city, and the city had the authority to maintain and make improvements to the right-of-way.
Bills said at this point, the council’s decision was whether to dispatch Bri Sorensen or not. He also challenged anyone to give him a positive opinion, as he had personally not heard a single positive comment about the pedestals.
Bradley and Bills both felt they had an obligation to the citizens to have the city attorney intercede.
“I feel like FMTC pulled the wool over our eyes, and they thought they’d get by with it, and they’re not going to get by with it,” stated Bradley.
Bradley advised the council that FMTC admitted they didn’t communicate properly. Bradley felt the city had the legal right to go back and have all the pedestals replaced. Bills said that was an option, or the project was stopped entirely.
Heitbrink questioned if FMTC was stopped, whether the prior company from Missouri that had expressed interest in fiber might return. Bit was determined that company was also looking to use pedestals in the installation.
Bills said if FMTC’s project was ceased, he felt the fiber internet market was a commodity, and someone else could step in.
“It may not be next week, it may not be next month, but we’ll get it,” Bills stated.
Silvius was less hopeful that Bills on the availability of another fiber company coming in.
“Steve Adams’ team on broadband reached out to 34 companies. None of them responded. I spoke to a company in Mills County, and they were not interested in building out to this direction,” advised Silvius.
Without that option, Bills said the city needed to negotiate an acceptable deal.
“We have to make a deal with a company that’s willing to. But pedestals are not acceptable to anyone I’ve spoken to, including myself,” Bills said. “I’d rather wait for what we want then get what we don’t want.”
Bradley felt the council needed to have another conversation with Sorensen. Fridolph suggested a special meeting be scheduled with FMTC in open council session to further share their concerns and have them addressed in a public setting.
No further action was taken.

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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