Ammon residents will get to tap into city-owned fiber optic system in April

Teya Vitu//March 8, 2016

Ammon residents will get to tap into city-owned fiber optic system in April

Teya Vitu//March 8, 2016

Ammon system network administrator inspects the city's fiber optic system. Photo by Pete Grady.
Ammon system network administrator Ty Ashcraft inspects the city’s fiber optic system. Photo by Pete Grady.

Ammon plans to roll out its vaunted municipal fiber optic cable system to residents in April.

The small eastern Idaho city started linking municipal facilities with its own fiber optic cable in 2011. Soon thereafter, the Bonneville Joint School District and Bonneville County Sheriff’s Department tied into the municipal fiber optic system.

And now about 40 to 50 businesses – many of them banks – are also served by the city-owned fiber optic cable.

The goal is to make the 40-mile, $1.5 million fiber optic cable available to all 15,000 residents and commercial addresses. Ammon expects to have the first 300 homes connected to its fiber optic cable by the end of the year.

Ammon is one of only 455 U.S. cities with publicly owned fiber optics available. Fewer than 100 of those cities have it available citywide, said Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

“Ammon would be the most advanced with the technology they use,” Mitchell said. “They have taken giving consumers a choice to a new level. Ammon is using the hottest technology.”

Ammon’s nationally recognized fiber optic system is the brainchild of Bruce Patterson, Ammon’s technology director, who nearly a decade ago grew frustrated at the varying, inadequate Internet connections among city facilities and what he called an “ongoing maintenance nightmare” that cost the city about $3,000 a month.

In 2010, the Ammon City Council adopted a broadband policy to make providing fiber optic service an essential city service.

“Councilmember Brian Powell came to me and said ‘we have to figure out how to get competitive broadband pricing,” Patterson said.

Powell was thinking of how Ammon would mature as a city.

“Either Ammon can be a bedroom community or we can decide our own destiny,” said Powell.

The city’s network has much more capacity than the typical ISP. CenturyLink in Boise and elsewhere offers fiber optic Internet “up to 1 gig.” Ammon starts at 1 gigabit with the ability to provide up to 10 gigs to a customer, Patterson said.

Ammon residents will be able to choose their Internet service provider via the city’s website from whichever ISPs lease space on the city’s cable.

Through the website, residents will sign up, and then a virtual broadband gateway will be installed at the home. After that, residents will be able to do one-stop shopping for online service, and start and stop service right then with a click of a mouse.

“The Internet service provider turns on within five seconds,” said Patterson. “If you don’t like them, you just switch it off and select another provider.”

Ammon City Councilmember Brian Powell and City Administrator Ron Folsom have passionately pushed for superior city fiber optic service for a decade. Photo by Pete Grady.
Ammon City Councilmember Brian Powell and City Administrator Ron Folsom have passionately pushed for superior city fiber optic service for a decade. Photo by Pete Grady.

Residents would own the fiber optic connection to their homes rather than the Internet service provider. The cost is about $3,000 and can be paid in a lump sum or over 10 to 15 years, Patterson said.

The fiber optic commitment was part of an across-the-board infrastructure overhaul in Ammon as the city’s population multiplied from 5,000 in 2003, transforming it from a rural area into an urban community, as city Administrator Ron Folsom describes Ammon.

Ammon built a $40 million sewer treatment plant and a $15 million water holding tank. It increased the main water lines, purchased water rights, built a public works building and instituted automated garbage pickup.

Concurrently, Ball Ventures and Woodbury Corp. built Sandcreek Commons, the second largest shopping center in eastern Idaho, in the past year-and-a-half just within the Ammon city limits.

“Sandcreek Commons is just a result to the investment we put in the ground,” said Ammon City Councilmember Brian Powell, who has been closely tied to the fiber optic project since the beginning. “All we have to do is fiber optic and we’ll have the catalyst for business to come here.”

Brent Wilson, a leading Idaho Falls commercial real estate broker, facilitated the Sandcreek Commons tenants. He said a California developer expects to break ground in Ammon in 2017 on a 37-acre mixed-use project for high-tech business and residential. Ammon’s fiber optic is attracting business.

“That is huge. They are so smart to invest in that,” said Wilson, a broker at the newly opened Idaho Falls office of Thornton Oliver Keller Commercial Real Estate. ”You’re probably going to be seeing some big office tenants move to Ammon.”

Ammon has seen the national spotlight since launching its software defined networking technologies for its fiber optic system.

Ammon was the only city among dozens of universities and wireless technology companies invited to give presentations at three workshops in Washington, D.C. put on by the National Science Foundation in January and February: a Future Wireless Cities Workshop, a Workshop on Applications and Services in the Year 2021; and a Software Defined Infrastructure / Software Defined Exchange Workshop.

In 2014, Ammon won a $75,000 first prize from the National Institute of Justice, a branch of the U.S. Department of Justice, in a contest to create a new application for an ultra-high-speed computer network to enhance public safety. Ammon collaborated with the school district and sheriff’s department to stage an Active Shooter Project.

In the project, a simulated gunshot triggered a ballistic-detecting sensor that alerted video and audio systems in place at a school that, in turn, sent video and audio signals to the sheriff’s department within seconds via Ammon’s fiber optic network. Ammon then took the project to the next level and sent a live image to Washington, DC., within seconds.

“Now the police can see the shooter in seconds,” Powell said.

Story updated at 8:40 a.m. on March 8 with new position for broker Brent Wilson.

High-speed data as the standard

Much Internet service across the country is still transmitted through copper wiring, but Ammon’s broadband system uses fiber optic cable. Fiber optic is better, said Bruce Patterson, Ammon’s technology director. It has a larger capacity, and performs more reliably under varying weather conditions.

“Fiber is not affected by the environment,” he said. “When it gets wet outside or very hot, copper performs differently.”

Ammon’s Internet starts at 1 gigabit, which describes the capability to transmit 1 billion bits of data per second.

CenturyLink provides speed comparisons for 25 megabits and 1 gigabit: a 50-megabyte photo takes 1.5 seconds to transmit at 25 megabits and .04 seconds at 1 gigabit. A 700 megabyte(MB) movie takes 3.7 minutes at 25 megabits and 5.6 seconds at 1 gigabit. Patterson said Internet served by fiber optic can download the contents of a Blu Ray movie disc, about 8 gigabits in Patterson’s scenario, in about 5 seconds.

“Current technologies like DSL (digital subscriber line) from CenturyLink and cable modems from CableOne have download speeds that tend to top out at 25 megabits (Mbps) and 50 megabitsrespectively, which is 20 – 40 times slower than a gigabit,” said Christopher Mitchell, director of community broadband networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a Washington, D.C- and Minneapolis-based nonprofit that provides technical assistance to communities in areas such as banking, broadband and energy

A research group in Denmark in 2014 achieved a fiber optic transmission speed of 43 terabits, about 5,375 gigabits, according to the extremetech.com website.

“On the upload side, DSL and cable are even slower, rarely faster than 5 megabits, which means the fiber network is 200 times faster for sending information to the cloud,” Mitchell said. “Though no one application today uses a gigabit, households increasingly have many devices that cumulatively need more than 25-50 megabits at peak periods — and that demand is only growing.”