Many North Branch residents have been following along with great interest the progress being made on the construction of three wireless network towers that, once complete, will enable all residents the capability of having high-speed internet access. And thanks to the relatively mild winter the area has been experiencing, the project is on track to be completed in a very timely manner.
According to North Branch City Administrator Renae Fry, the footings for all three towers were able to be poured. Those footings will then need to cure for two to three weeks. After that time, it will only be a short construction period before the towers are completed.
“They actually come all assembled and ready to go,” Fry told the council during their Jan. 26 meeting. “Once the footings cure, the towers will be immediately assembled and dropped onto the footings. So we are still on track for substantial completion by the end of February.”
Fry also told the council she has received a preliminary price list for service from Genesis for residents wanting to get connected. She said there are three packages to choose from. The first offers 25 mb/s download speeds and 6 mb/s upload speeds for $45 per month.
“That is the broadband standard,” Fry said. “So they start with the broadband standard.”
The second package features 50 mb/s download and 10 mb/s upload speeds for $65 per month. The third package features 100 mb/s download and 20 mb/s upload speeds for $95 per month.
Fry said each of the packages are no-contract, no data limit. She added that either the leasing or purchase of equipment would be extra.
Fry added that at this time, Genesis can’t sign anyone up until the towers are complete and up and running, however anyone interested can be placed on a waiting list by emailing email@example.com.
“All they would have to do is mention they are a resident of North Branch and they want to be on the list,” Fry said.
She concluded by saying there are a couple test households currently using the signal from one of the water towers, and “the reaction is really positive, so we are excited that this is finally going to address the internet needs of the city.”
Dispelling some inaccurate information
Council Member Amanda Darwin mentioned that she has been sharing updates via social media, and while a majority of the reaction has been positive, there was also some “bad information” floating around.
“What was being spread, but not by the city, is that each tower would only service 25 homes at maximum, which would obviously not be cost-effective for the city,” Darwin said.
Fry said she thinks what that incorrect information was referring to was a plan from three years ago that didn’t utilize as good of equipment.
“Because the equipment (back then) lacked the strength or sophistication, it would have resulted in the city needing to put up literally 24 towers, and that the numbers of homes that could be serviced was capped at that 25-30 range to maximize the bandwidth,” Fry said. “The new equipment is being placed on three towers 120 feet into the air, and the entire plan is set around saturation. So everyone within the city, if they wanted to switch their provider, they certainly may do so.”
Odds and ends
In other action, the council:
•Appointed Peter Schaps to the Parks, Trails, and Outside Spaces Commission.
•Selected Ehlers and Associates as a new municipal advisor. The first thing the council will ask of them is to help establish a housing TIF (tax increment financing) plan.
•Heard from Finance Director Joseph Starks regarding a change to the stormwater fee billing process. According to Starks, the city previously would bill residents either as a monthly charge or as a charge on the annual property tax bill. However beginning in 2021, state statute doesn’t allow for cities to use the property tax bill in that way. Therefore, residents who are not customers of Water & Light will be billed directly by the city.