The Ketchum City Council approved an almost $7,000 expenditure last month to underground cable conduits under River and Washington streets. The city will not, as discussed in previous years, create a public, high-speed Internet network—instead it is laying track in the hopes that an Internet provider will one day fill the conduit with fiber-optic infrastructure.
Utility providers Cox Communications and Idaho Power undergrounded utility lines on and around the future site of the Limelight Hotel last month, prompting the city to take advantage of the open trench.
“The city’s role is to facilitate installation of the infrastructure for future broadband,” Mayor Nina Jonas said in an interview. “That occurs through installing empty conduit with new construction, co-locating conduit when there is an open trench and making available the Ketchum Springs lines once they’re abandoned.”
The Ketchum Springs water line is old and leaking, the city’s Public Works Department said, which is why it created a water revenue bond for voters to consider last month to replace the aging system. The measure passed overwhelmingly.
The three policies mentioned by Jonas came out of a 2013 broadband study commissioned by the city for about $25,000 in March 2013. Miami-based firm Magellan Advisors worked with a city-appointed Broadband Strategic Planning Committee to come up with a plan.
Traditional broadband services differ from fiber-optic broadband services in that they are subject to “shared utilization,” according to the 2013 report.
Users are subject to varying speeds and performances, as the system’s bandwidth is shared between all users on the system. Performance and speed are weakened when too many users attempt to access the Internet. Fiber-optic users, on the other hand, enjoy a direct connection between the service provider’s facility and their computer. Performance and speed is guaranteed, since they are not sharing bandwidth with other users
Guy Cherp, vice president of operations for Cox Communications, was part of the strategic planning committee. He said the group concluded that the city should not become a public Internet provider, as the cost would be exorbitant and high bandwidth is not needed by most Wood River Valley businesses. Those who desire it, he said, can pay for private installation—and several local businesses do.
Ketchum’s Internet service is as good as it is anywhere, Cherp said—speaking to the 2013 Magellan report, which stated that traditional broadband users complained of inconsistent speed and reliability, as well as slower service during peak Internet times.
“The notion that Ketchum is lagging behind, we don’t see that,” he said.
George Golleher, owner of Bigwood Bread Café, chose to install fiber-optic cables under his second Bigwood Bread restaurant in the light industrial district when it was constructed last year, using Cox Communications as his provider.
“It’s the wave of the future, I’d be crazy not to do it,” he said. “I’d rather do it now than retrofit it later.”
Former Mayor Randy Hall told the Idaho Mountain Express in June 2013 that the city “has no intention of owning any of that infrastructure.”
According to the 2013 Magellan plan, the cost of undergrounding fiber in Ketchum per mile was four times the national average. Reasons for the high prices were mountainous terrain, a short construction season and an abundance of rock.
The consultants concluded in their 2013 report that the city should consider a public-private partnership with local service providers to develop better broadband services through short and long-term objectives.
The Magellan advisors had asked for a second, follow-up study, but “there was not consensus to move forward on that,” Jonas said.
“At some point in the future, the city may initiate a competitive process to solicit proposals from providers who want to use the soon-to-be abandoned Ketchum Springs infrastructure,” she said. “It’s the role of each business to decide their own broadband needs.”