Consultants hired for a municipal telecommunications study have concluded it’s not feasible for Decorah.
“Unfortunately it’s not a positive recommendation or outcome to the study,” David Stockton, owner of Uptown Services of Boulder Colo. told the Decorah City Council Monday night.
“I know it’s disappointing, but sometimes it does happen.”
Uptown Services was hired by the city of Decorah earlier this year to conduct a feasibility study of a municipal telecommunications and fiber network. In 2015, city residents approved an ordinance authorizing the city to establish a municipally owned cable communications utility. The issue was put on the ballot following an initiative by Decorah Fast Fiber, a citizens’ group that advocated for the creation of a municipally owned utility for Internet, television and telephone services.
The ordinance approved by voters also provided for the formation of a five-member Decorah Municipal Communication Utility Board, which recommended Uptown Services be hired for the feasibility study.
While members of the Utility Board and Fast Fiber attended Monday night’s meeting, they did not comment on the results of the feasibility study. City Manager Chad Bird said Commission members would respond to the report and make a recommendation to the Council at one of the Council’s meetings in October.
The feasibility study cost $59,000, with Fast Fiber contributing $30,000 toward the cost and the balance coming from the city’s budget.

Stockton told the Council Decorah already has a “great asset” in the Decorah Metronet -- a fiber optic network around the city of Decorah. The city has invested $75,000 to be a Decorah Metronet partner, and the network has a value of $900,000, he said.
In contrast to that $75,000 investment, Stockton said the city would be looking at a $10 million expense to provide full fiber systems to residential and commercial property owners.
“That’s a big step up and a big investment long term and an investment in a competitive environment. We’ve done quite a bit of market research and financial and engineering analysis,” he said.
Stockton explained the purpose of the study was to determine whether a $10 million investment could be recovered.
“The idea with a municipal broadband revenue based service is you want to recoup your investment with subscriber fees over time, and secondly, you need to determine if it would require a subsidy over time,” Stockton said.
The proposed timeframe for recouping the investment in a municipal communications utility was 20 years. As consultants, he said Uptown Services’ role is to consider the opportunities and risk that could occur during that time.
“That’s a very long pay back period. Are things happening in this industry that are going to magnify (and impact the industry)?” Stockton asked.
He said it’s anticipated that at some point, a “major player” such as Apple or Google, will acquire full content rights for all television channels and be able to compete with cable television providers without franchise agreements.
“That will be a very powerful moment when you look at video service,” Stockton said.
In addition, he said local cable, phone and Internet provider Mediacom is the first provider in the area to offer 1-gigabit Internet service.
“They’d have a two year jump on you, which is a big deal,” Stockton said.
He predicted the city would have to subsidize the utility from the city’s general fund from the outset and that it would not break even within 20 years.
The Uptown Services study looked at trends, surveys of businesses and residents and compiled anticipated use of a municipal utility in making its recommendation.
Mayor Don Arendt and City Manager Chad Bird thanked Uptown Services, the members of Fast Fiber and the Utility Board for their work on the feasibility study.
“It was a long process and very educational … we’ll see where it goes from here,” Bird said.