Citizens Mutual awarded $1.6 million for broadband installation

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Citizens Mutual Cooperative in Bloomfield learned last week that it would be awarded a $1.6 million grant from the Broadband Grants Program of the Empower Rural Iowa Broadband Program. The funding will be used to expand Citizens Mutual broadband service into unserved and underserved areas of Wapello and Davis Counties.

“This is the largest grant Citizens Mutual has ever received,” said Business Manager Johnathan Tuvera.

The grant is a result of Governor Reynolds broadband initiative, which the legislature approved this year to the tune of $100 million.

“We were in a good position for this funding,” said Tuvera. “The state came out with a map showing areas that were eligible for the funding based on the underserved and unserved.

“We did the data collection in-house with our staff and had a professional write the grant, which included the history of the company, the kinds of service offered, and a breakdown of management and staff.”

Tuvera said there was a short turnaround time — only four weeks from July 1 to July 28 — to prepare the application.

Reference letters and letters of support were submitted from various entities portraying the message that service was not good in the areas where Citizens Mutual proposed installing broadband.

General Manager Vince Tyson said there were a “lot of moving parts” as far as defining the project and submitting a quality application. “We had to have an estimate of building costs,” he said. “And we had to ask the counties (Davis and Wapello) for support.”

Wapello County offered $765,000 and Davis County $100,000 for a total of $875,000 toward the project.

The map above shows Citizens Mutual’s broadband coverage areas. The green is the area currently served by CM. Blue represents the area where installation is currently taking place, and orange represents the area where broadband will be installed with the $1.6 million in new grant funds.

Trent Gregory of Citizens Mutual manages construction and said CM has three years to complete the project, but the goal is to finish by the end of 2023.

Tyson said internet is provided by incumbent telephone companies in the orange area, but the investment is not sufficient. Wireless service is the only type of internet that is cost effective in these areas, but because of the hilly terrain, service is not adequate.

“We ran the statistics for Wapello County,” Tyson said. “Out of 99 counties, they rank 84th in service. There is a huge need for broadband and they are definitely interested in working with Citizens Mutual.”

“We had 40 responses from the area south of the Des Moines River. There was a resounding message that these people need something different than what they have,” Tuvera said.

Tyson said CM’s goal is not to go in and compete on price. “We don’t want to compromise quality,” he said.

To install fiber in rural areas, funding is needed and Citizens Mutual plans to continue building as long as there is funding.

CM will not be serving the city of Ottumwa, however.

Tuvera said Citizens Mutual currently has 2600-2700 members and will be adding an additional 600-700 new members for 25% growth.

“This is good for Citizens Mutual’s existing members,” Tyson said. “This will generate new revenue to help offset rising costs.”

Tyson and Tuvera said less than 20% of Davis County’s fiber installation was accomplished through grant funding.

Prior to this last grant of $1.6 million, Citizens Mutual received grants of $730,000 and $740,000 each for a total of $2.1 million in grant funding in the last two years.

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