Municipal Fiber Deployment Case Story (Waterloo, IA)
September 26, 2023

Read through Waterloo’s efforts to create a locally owned, controlled, and operated telecommunications utility. This case story provides a breakdown of the project itself as well as what went into the planning process and what key efforts were deployed by Waterloo to secure federal (ARPA) funding.

BEAD Overview

The BEAD program is unique in the realm of broadband funding as it consists of a two-tiered system in which the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) distributes program formula funding to states, who then host subgrant competitions to distribute the funding. BEAD funding is sequenced as an iterative process (detailed in Section IV.B of the BEAD NOFO) to drive resources to states based on review and acceptance of five-year action plans which then guide state proposals including both statewide and municipal initiatives. Subgrant competitions for cities are defined in Volume 2 of the  Initial State Proposal. The timeline for BEAD program implementation will  vary by state as it is dependent on the timing of other state milestones related to required steps for receiving BEAD funding. At publication, many states’ initial proposals are in the public comments phase. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration has a webpage for public notice postings of BEAD and Digital Equity plans and proposals. State subgrant competitions are expected to be held in CY 2024. With this structure, there is likely to be variance in subgrantee requirements across states. 

The Local Infrastructure Hub has identified two distinct models, running the gamut from public to private approaches for deploying municipal broadband, for consideration by cities developing strategies for utilizing BEAD funding:

  • Waterloo, IA:  municipal-owned service provider (Waterloo Fiber)
  • Mesa, AZ:  market-driven approach

This Case Story will discuss the Waterloo Fiber project. To access the Mesa, AZ Case Study CLICK HERE.

Considerations for municipalities 

These case studies raise several considerations for municipal leaders and stakeholders as strategies for broadband deployment are developed, including: 

  • What are your goals for community connectivity and how do they align with priorities for equity, economic mobility and competitiveness?
  • What are the challenges facing your city in terms of closing equity gaps and spurring economic development – physical access, affordability, or something else? 
  • What is the existing physical infrastructure and who is in the market? 
  • What funding and financing options are available to your city? 
  • What local partners do you have or need to build a successful project? How can you best engage with them?
  • What is the level of community support? How do community stakeholders see the trade-offs in different models for broadband upgrades? 
  • What organizations and resources can you work with to provide access to digital technology (including computers) and support digital literacy? 
  • How will you ensure that eligible households can access benefits provided by the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program?

Waterloo, IA

Fast Facts:

Waterloo
Population67,314 (2020)
Land area61.6 mi2
Persons per mi21,092.8 
Households without internet access (2019 ACS)18.2%
Households with internet access, but without broadband subscriptions (2019 ACS)26%
Beginning of constructionAugust 2023

Project at a Glance:

Project Leadership: Mayor Quentin Hart; Andy Van Fleet, Chair of Waterloo’s Municipal Communications Utility

Location: City of Waterloo

Timeline: August 2023 – Ongoing

Focus: Broadband infrastructure deployment, economic mobility 

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