City honored for broadband efforts

Webster City on Tuesday became one of two cities in the state of Iowa to become a certified Connected Community by Connect Iowa. A ceremony was held at Fuller Hall, with Connect Iowa representatives presenting a crystal award to Mayor Janet Adams, designating the city as a broadband connected community.

Indianola was the first community to achieve the Connected Community certification.

Connect Iowa is a nonprofit organization, federally funded through the stimulus funds from 2009. Amy Kuhlers, state program manager for Connect Iowa, said her organization’s mission was to increase broadband access, adoption and use throughout the state. In assessing a community’s broadband availability, the access focus area checks to see whether broadband and technology foundation exists for a community. She said the criteria within the access focus looks for gaps that could affect a local community broadband ecosystem.

Kuhlers also said the adoption component of the assessment seeks to ensure the ability of all individuals to access and use broadband. She said broadband use is the most important component of the three focus areas.

Webster City garnered a total of 113 points out of 120 for overall broadband and technology readiness, which Kuhlers said indicated the community is exhibiting high success in technology access, adoption and use. The city surpassed the score of 100 required to receive the Connected certification.

The city received 40 out of 40 points for broadband adoption. This was due primarily to many programs available to area residents who may find it more difficult to access and use broadband. Kuhlers said readily available public computers for the general population and adult education classes offered on computer literacy also boosted the score.

“We believe this designation is a big deal for us in trying to attract businesses,” said City Manager Ed Sadler. “Not only to help the current businesses to expand but to attract new ones.”

Sadler said credit for the certification was due to the work of many people.

“This is due to the previous administration who had the foresight to put in the fiber loop. This is due to outside companies that have the foresight to build the fiber here – Woolstock, Earthlink, Centurylink. Fiber loop doesn’t do us any good if it doesn’t connect to anything.”

Sadler also credited former Webster City economic developer David Toyer for his work on the broadband assessment.

“He had the foresight to work on this,” Sadler said.

“There’s a lot of people hooked into our fiber. Some are hooked in via the Iowa Communications Network – St. Thomas, Iowa Central and Webster City High School. We lease the dark fiber to Woolstock (Mutual Telephone); they light it up as appropriate,” he said.

Sadler noted that the iPad project through the local schools wouldn’t be possible without the broadband connectivity.

“iPads with dial-up wouldn’t work,” he said.

Broadband capabilities can prove to be a vital tool in economic development and attracting businesses to a community. Sadler said Webster City, in recent months, was in the running for two large computer-related economic development projects that landed in the state. Without mentioning which companies or projects, Sadler said Webster City was one of three finalists for one of the projects and one of two finalists for the other.

He said that those near-deals were due in no small part to the broadband capabilities along with other incentives the community had to offer, such as water and electricity.

“This is a big thing for our community,” he said.