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Idaho Falls Power begins offering high-speed fiber optic access to residents

The Idaho Falls City Council passed a resolution Thursday night for Idaho Falls Power to start a pilot program that will bring high-speed fiber optic internet access to residents.

Fiber and fiber optic lines are thin strands of glass that stretch and conduct light that carries data. It makes fiber one of the fastest methods for data delivery.

“We have over 500 business entities on it, schools and different government institutions in the state have been on our fiber network since 2002,” said Bear Prairie, the general manager for Idaho Falls Power and Idaho Falls Fiber.

The city utility says that high-speed, broadband data connectivity is important for business and the economy. It will provide previously unavailable access to fiber for internet connectivity for customers who would like to use additional bandwidth.

“The use of the internet is now even for middle school and elementary education,” Prairie said. “We want to make sure that everybody has access to this type of connectivity. We have a lot more people working from home, a lot of people are digitally telecommuting. We want to make sure that is not a barrier.”

The fiber is distributed in one of two ways. It can be either strung along poles with existing overhead power lines, or it is buried underground with existing or new channels.

“Heavy construction where we’re replacing and upgrading the electric will commence in the spring,” said Prairie.

To help with the process, Idaho Falls Power has partnered with Utah-based fiber optic network Utopia. The not-for-profit entity will help design and manage the open access network.

“We can deliver high-speed access for not only electric utility to utilize for smart metering, demand response programs in the future,” said Prairie. “We will also have bandwidth leftover in the future for customers to also leverage that into purchasing internet from local internet providers.”

Idaho Falls Power and Idaho Falls Fiber will not be providing internet services, leaving that to other companies. The city utility is only installing the fiber and managing the physical infrastructure.

“In mid-October, we’re going to be meeting with all the local area providers to explain to them how the network works, because it’s a new business model for a lot of them,” Prairie said. “They need to understand the details for what it means to use somebody else’s fiber or somebody else’s infrastructure to deliver their product.”

The fiber network is optional. Residents who choose not to use the service will not pay for the installation of the fiber network.

“If you connect to the fiber network, then you’ll pay a fee on your standard utility bills,” said Prairie.

That will be just part of the bill. The other component of what residents will pay comes from the internet provider they choose to do service with.

“What we’ve seen in other markets for costs, it ranges anywhere from $55 to $60 a month up to $80,” Prairie said. “That just depends on your speed and bandwidth.”

If residents do choose to decline the service, they can still connect in the future.

The boundaries for the pilot program have not been finalized yet, but the general area includes numbered streets between 17th Street and Tautphaus Park. It will also extend into some residential areas south of Sunnyside.

Idaho Falls Power and Idaho Falls Fiber will be sending out a letter in early October to homes in the pilot area.

The utilities will also be holding an open house on Oct. 23 at Taylorview Middle School to explain more about the program.

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