Lessons from the Field, News

Ammon, Idaho: Small Town, Big Ideas

Ammon, Idaho’s town motto, “small town, big life“, accurately describes the town outside of Idaho Falls in more ways than one. Established in 1905, Ammon has been “building a strong community with active families, thriving businesses, and cutting-edge technology”, making it one of the fastest-growing cities in Idaho.

In order to sustain “big life” in a small town connectivity is key. While many small towns turn to community broadband because they are not adequately served by private companies or telecoms, Ammon has deployed a new model worth examining. The town created an open access network– an arrangement in which multiple private independent service providers offer services over the city owned fiber. It provides much more competition from which potential subscribers can choose. The model in itself is not revolutionary, but Ammon also built a system in which residents can sign up or switch ISPs almost instantly simply by visiting the city-operated website. There is no need to wait for the installation or changing of equipment because all of the ISPs operate on the same city-owned wires. You can switch ISPs almost as fast as you can download an app to your phone!

City Technology Director, Bruce Patterson, described the network setup as hard work at first, but in the long term the city itself stands at little risk, “We create the fiber utility, we maintain it and keep it lit for the residents, we bring the providers into that system and allow the residents to deal with them directly.”

This whole project began in Ammon about seven years ago when the city government was suffering from horrible upload speeds. They initially sought out major companies to install the desired high speed network between City Hall and Public Works, but the cost of installation between the two buildings (less than a mile apart) was exorbitant. Eventually, the town concluded they could do it themselves for far cheaper, “they could do the initial project themselves for just $22,000 and that they could also bring Internet access to government buildings and businesses, improving the city’s ability to compete in a high-tech world in a fiscally responsible manner.”

The town of Ammon now boasts 30 miles of fiber network connecting schools, government buildings, and over forty businesses. The city broke even on the construction in just three years and now has no debt related to the fiber construction.

As for ISP competitors CEO Jared Stowell of Fybercom, another ISP using Ammon’s network, said this: “We like the competition. It keeps us on top of the game so we can continue to provide a superior product and no one gets lackadaisical.” Sounds like a pretty good way to promote growth and do business, if you ask me.

Just this past week Ammon released exciting news that the town had received a $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a series of next-generation networking technologies to support public safety. The technology called SafeEdge will allow Ammon residents connected to the city’s network the opportunity to participate in the initiative to develop applications such as broadband public emergency alerts.

I personally think Ammon, Idaho should look into a new motto for themselves…”small town, big IDEAS.”

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