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Holland voters could decide on city-provided Wi-Fi initiative in August

The project could cost as much as $24 million, and the millage could be up to 1.5 mills, which would be roughly $6.25 per month for every $100,000 of home value.

HOLLAND, Mich. — Last week, the Holland Board of Public Works announced a major initiative during a city council meeting that could have a future impact on residents and their internet service.

The BPW set forward a plan that would allow them to create a city-owned fiber network to help give high-speed internet to everyone in the city.

"We're talking about broadband, which has been a priority for city council for years," said Holland BPW's General Manager, Dave Koster. "This would be a $24 million investment to make sure that fiber optics could pass by every resident and every business in the City of Holland."

The BPW's plan, which must be approved by city council on April 20, would ask residents to support a millage to fund building the high-speed fiber optic network throughout the city. 

"The city would actually own the infrastructure, and the BPW would be the operator of that infrastructure," Koster said. 

Koster explained that with the open-access model, they're hoping to encourage competition between internet service providers to offer better prices. 

"We want to help reduce the cost threshold dramatically for the entire city," he said, "and to put the city more in control of it's fiber optic network."

The project could cost as much as $24 million, and the millage could be as high as 1.5 mills, which would be roughly $6.25 per month for every $100,000 of home value. Koster though, thinks it will be lower, citing that the city proposed using $4 million in American Rescue Plan Act money and additional grants to help with funding. 

Koster added that if the millage were to pass, everything after that would be elective for city residents. 

"In terms of actually building the fiber from the road to your house and getting any service, that's a choice that everybody will have," he said, "so, the only thing that they would be responsible for would be the actual millage."

Economic professor at Wichita State University and Holland property owner Ted Bolema had a couple of concerns about the plan. 

"By it being a millage, that means that everyone is going to be paying the millage but not everyone is going to be taking advantage of the service," he said.

Bolema also added that the American Rescue Plan stimulus money wasn't really supposed to be used for broadband providers, but instead go to underserved areas, which he said Holland is not.

"If it is to be directed at providing internet service, it should be targeted at areas that don't have internet services or underserved areas," Bolema said, "and Holland may really just be an underserved area."

Bolema also had concerns about a government agency competing with private companies because the BPW would have some advantages from the very start. 

"They control the rights of way, and they control the regulatory process," he said, "so they're both a player and a referee."

City council must vote to approve or disapprove of the ballot proposal by April 20, and are looking at the August primary election if it moves forward. 

"If we're going to make sure that this is universally available," said Dave Koster, "we want to put back in the hands of the community to make a decision and take control of its own destiny."

Because the decision is still in the preliminary stages, the city is asking residents to learn more about the project on their website and ask any questions they may have as the process moves forward. You can find the informational and FAQ page by clicking here. 

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