Fiber Internet service in Jacksonville discussed

By Gary Scott on November 26, 2014 at 12:24pm

The head of a local electric co-op hopes Jacksonville aldermen will consider a big project to make fiber Internet service available locally.

Illinois Rural Electric Co-op General Manager Bruce Giffin appeared before city council members on Monday to talk about constructing a new “virtual highway” in the city to hook up to fiber service recently made possible by the Illinois Century Network.

ICN Fiber optics are currently running along Interstate 72, and other fiber networks are running south on Route 267, but currently Giffin says Illinois Rural Electric only has plans to install service in Winchester and Bluffs currently.

Giffin says having fiber service in Jacksonville is in the economic interest of the area. He proposed a public-private partnership to city council.

“It could have an operating partnership with investors and Internet service providers who would operate the network, and Internet service providers lighting up the fiber to individual consumers,” explains Giffin.

“There would be universal service throughout the area which would allow all of the qualified Internet service providers to compete for the consumers.”

Despite the potential of a fiber network offering gigabit service- the fastest average Internet speed using cable is less than 100 megabits- Giffin explains why companies have been hesitant to jump in to offer the service locally.

“This risk is that you deploy fiber, and somebody overbuilds you and you have two brand-new fiber systems fighting for the same small market, and it begins not to make any economic sense,” says Giffin.

“Various players will pick certain tracts and there will be a hodgepodge of Internet service providers bringing fiber service to parts of Jacksonville and South Jacksonville. It’s not a really very good solution.”

There would be a cost to the city to invest in the initial infrastructure. Giffin threw out a preliminary number on Monday of $25 million, but the general manager of the non-profit co-op says the cost would pay for itself in the form of subscription fees.

“I think we’re way too early in this discussion to expect anybody to support anything,” he says. “I simply put forth a model that has potential to work, and it’s my hope that we will talk about how we might be able to pull it off more as we move ahead.”

Giffin adds that FCC funding is available where telephone service is subsidized by the Connect America fund.

A feasibility study authorized earlier this year by the city, South Jacksonville, District 117, the regional economic development commission and the two private colleges in Jacksonville determined there is demand in West Central Illinois for fiber service.

Giffin said on Monday such a project could take three years to complete.