Discontent with Internet service providers in Hillsboro, particularly for business use, has prompted a few local businessmen to explore other alternatives.
The Hillsboro City Council was updated on the movement at its Dec. 6 meeting by two of its leaders, Clint Seibel, who is the city’s economic director, and Joel Klaassen, publisher of the Hillsboro Free Press.
The two providers who have franchise agreements with the city are EagleCom and Century Link.
Seibel said in response to concerns surfacing in the community, about 40 people met in October for an informal sharing session.
“We in the residential community can get by if our e-mail doesn’t happen to go out, or we can’t get on the Internet that hour (because) maybe tomorrow we can,” Seibel said. “But for businesses, it’s just imperative that they have continuous service and fast speeds.
“We have intermittent service, slow speeds,” he added. “For the most part, we’re being served pretty adequately, but not in everybody’s case.”
Seibel said Hillsboro’s “Information Highway” is analagous to the 13-mile road for vehicle traffic.
“If there’s two big trucks coming, it gets overloaded real fast,” he said. “We would like I-35 coming through here.”
Both men identified Hillsboro’s economic future as a primary motivator.
“If we’re going to progress and grow in the future, we’re going to need much-improved services here or else we’re just going to be left behind,” Seibel said.
Klaassen said it’s possible to get high-speed Internet through the two local providers, but not at an affordable rate. He said a current provider quoted $900 per month for 100-megabyte service; one potential outside provider had quoted $100 for the same service.
He said the ad hoc group is looking to bring fiber-optic cable to the community.
“You have to have some players to make it happen,” Klaassen said. “So we spent some time talking to some big players in town, and we learned that they’ve done something on their own to help themselves—but it’s nothing that can help the city at large at this point.
“But they are interested in working with us to help things improve.”
Three of those players are Hillsboro Community Hospital, Tabor College and Unified School District 410, who are leasing fiber-optic service through EagleCom.
Klaassen said it’s highly unlikely that EagleCom or Century Link would provide fiber-optics for the entire community because Hillsboro is too small a market.
“From my experience, we’ve found that Century Link isn’t planning to do anything here,” Klaassen said. “I don’t see that’s ever going to happen. Their big markets are Las Vegas and Orlando, Fla. So, where do you think they’re going to spend money when it comes to the Internet?”
One company representative initially said it would cost $6 million to bring fiber optics to Hillsboro, then lowered his estimate to $3 million.
“I think he was just pulling these numbers out of the air,” Seibel said. “We think it could happen for a whole lot less than that—to get fiber-optic lines running in town, which would give us an advantage over many smaller towns.”
Both men emphasize that the exploration process is being pursued privately.
“We’re not an official group by any means,” Klaassen said. “We’re some independent folks who are trying to improve the lot of our own businesses for the future of Hillsboro.”
“There’s no guarantees about anything,” he added. “We’re not looking for money from the city. We’re just looking for whatever support the city can give as far as if it takes a franchise agreement, or if it takes rent on (utility) poles or renting right-of-ways for burying lines—or whatever it takes.”
City leaders offered verbal support for the exploration process.
City Administrator Larry Paine said he is well aware of the need. While Internet speeds have been close to company projections at his city office, at home he’s paying for 10 megabyte-per-second service but frequently receives less than 1 mps.
“When you start thinking about what people in our community are getting, and what they’re paying for, it stinks,” Paine said.
“A big reason to do this is because we don’t want…any businesses to leave,” said Councilor Marlene Fast. “There’s a reason to look into this. I’m very favorable to this because…we need businesses to stay in Hillsboro. We’ve got to be set up for it.”
Councilor Byron McCarty said he was pleased that the group isn’t seeking city funding to underwrite Internet service.
“We don’t think it’s right for the city to fork out a bunch of money to help somebody get established in a business when it’s an independent venture,” McCarty said. “If we did it for one person, we’d have to do it for somebody else. But I think it’s a real good idea and I’d like to see that happen.”
Seibel said ideas for the future have been explored, but it’s difficult to say what the final outcome will be.
“We don’t know where this is going to go, but we think we’re all going to have to get together behind it as a community before this project will ever take off,” he said.
“We think we know what we want. How to get there yet, we’re not quite sure.”