Fiber in the Mayoral Debate

Monday night, Holland’s candidates for mayor spoke at the League of Women Voter’s Mayoral Candidate Forum. I was happy to hear a question about fiber come from the audience (no, it wasn’t from me). Here’s the full exchange:

Moderator: Can you explain the journey of fiber optics in Holland and its future as you see it?

Nathan Bocks: It’s been a slow but deliberate journey in my mind. I think it’s great that we’re starting to put that system in place but I think that it needs to expand quite a bit. It’s been great for businesses in the downtown area. I was on the Tulip Time board for several years and one of the issues that we had was having enough bandwidth on our internet to be able to deal with- especially during Tulip Time week, being able to handle all of the traffic that we had.

When Tulip Time moved its offices and suddenly had fiber available to it, it was like a door opened up for us. It was absolutely fantastic. We need to expand it to the general public. I think that the first place that we ought to expand it into is the core city area. We have families in this community that do not have internet access in their homes. I have kids in school, every single homework assignment they have involves some interaction with the internet.

If you don’t have internet in your home, if you can’t afford to have the cellular internet on your iPad or on your phone, you’ve really only got one option, and that’s to go to the public library. When I was on the library board, we had the same kind of tax cuts that the mayor was talking about in the city. The library board’s budget was completely from tax revenue. When the property values in Holland dropped, so did the library’s budget.

The way the system works is that your property tax revenues drop exactly the same way your property values do, but they’ve climbed back very, very slowly. We took a huge hit and that was a hit in hours, we lost weekend hours, we lost nighttime hours. Guess which hours kids do homework. We need to make sure that our core city kids have the tools they need to get the grades that they need in school to be able to be good citizens.

Moderator: Thank you. Mayor DeBoer, can you explain the journey of fiber optics in Holland and its future?

Nancy DeBoer: Holland was way ahead of the curve. We put in fiber optics in order for the BPW to talk to itself. We had a big system and then we connected with the schools and the hospital and all of that came in before the state started regulating. That was wonderful for us. Now, we have this great skeleton, but we’d like to fill it out further and now we tried downtown with a pilot project and everybody loves it.

Once you get screaming fast fiber you want nothing else, the way everything downloads so quickly and that is something that everybody is loving downtown. We’ve been working with the BPW on how can we get this out further, how can we connect with neighborhoods with fiber and so many people have said, if you get fiber in Holland, I am there. I don’t care about anything else. Since we’ve been four years as a very best place to start a small business in the whole country, it’s time to add fiber to that.

Yes, we had a presentation from the BPW a few weeks ago, and I think they figured it out because they found a little city in Idaho that didn’t have good connections. They actually as a government put in this fiber optic system and then all the companies for content competed for the business and the families got the price of– I think was fifty-something per month that they could have fiber along with the assessment to connect with fiber.

That sounded great and the BPW loves the idea of doing infrastructure, not content. Before we have been talking about both. Now they found their lane in infrastructure and really loving that. We also have the possibility of companies competing because they won’t have to deal with the infrastructure. It is sounding really good. We want to start a big community conversation just like we did with the waterfront and with the power plant and with the Civic Center, with bringing a whole group of people together and figuring out how we want to launch this in the city.


Watch the video, with the question starting at 1:11:22.

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