Holland approves citywide high-speed internet proposal

HOLLAND, MI – Holland is getting a citywide high-speed internet network that will be funded by taxpayer dollars after voters approved a $30 million proposal ballot in Tuesday’s election.

The city of Holland asked voters on Tuesday, Aug. 2, to approve a municipal fiber optic internet network that would provide fast and affordable internet across the city, and would be paid for and maintained through public funds.

The bond proposal passed by just over 200 votes on Tuesday, according to unofficial Aug. 2 election results from the Ottawa County Clerk’s Office. There were 3,948 yes votes for the proposal, and 3,735 no votes.

The proposal will levy 1.5 mills, or $1.50 on each $1,000 of taxable valuation, in its first year, according to ballot language from the Ottawa County Clerk’s Office.

The 25-year millage is expected to average out to an annual millage rate of 1.12 mills, depending on market conditions, said Pete Hoffswell, superintendent of broadband services for the Holland Board of Public Works. For a taxpayer with a home valued at $200,000, that comes out to $112 in annual taxes.

Hoffswell said the overall goal of the project is to make internet more accessible and affordable in Holland – a need that proved to be vital during the coronavirus pandemic.

By installing a tax-funded open access fiber network, the Holland Board of Public Works would be able to provide customers with high speed and secure internet services that would be available throughout the city, he said.

Private internet service providers would also be able to use the infrastructure to offer their own broadband services, at up to 10 gigabits per second. Residents connected to the city’s fiber network would be able to sign up for those services.

“It’s a community investment, just like we invest in our roads that are used by everybody,” Hoffswell previously told MLive/The Grand Rapids Press. “This is a community investment to build a fiber infrastructure that everybody can use.”

City officials are estimating that about 51% of eligible customers in Holland will sign up for the municipal internet service network – a percentage that’s called the city’s “take rate.” Hoffswell said there are a projected 19,000 potential internet customers in Holland.

Customers who opt in for the service would pay an $820 fee to connect it to their homes, which could be spread out over a payment plan. The city plans to offer 1 gigabit of internet service for $42 a month, which would cover the cost of connection, operations and maintenance, and the internet service itself.

But even if the take rate ends up being lower than projected, the cost of the project would still be funded by taxpayer dollars, Hoffswell said.

The city already has a fiber optics network installed downtown that is offered to all businesses, retailers, residents and restaurants located in the area. The network was installed as a pilot project in 2018 to test out the municipal internet services idea, which Hoffswell said proved to be successful.

The infrastructure will take about two years to install across the city, Hoffswell said. City officials expect the first phase of internet services to go live in summer 2024, he said.

Not everyone was on board with the city’s proposal. An organized group opposing the proposal, called Protect Holland Taxpayers, had rallied around convincing voters to defeat the proposal in the Aug. 2 election.

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