Natel Broadband plans expanded service into Washington County

Natel Broadband, an internet service provider based in Fairfield County, is hoping to service southern Washington County using a recently awarded broadband grant.

The proposal to the Washington County Board of Supervisors in March would offer homes wireless broadband access rather than laying fiber-optic cables to each home, a time-intensive and more costly endeavor.

“I think the advantage of our company and our approach is that our proposal is to build fiber to the tower and then the last mile to deliver 100 megabytes by 100 megabytes service throughout the southern third of your county,” said Mike Schill, Natel Broadband founder, during a presentation to the county.

If approved, Natel will be able to cover about 237 broadband units and 46 businesses. The grant will cover $152,000 of the $390,000 required cost.

“I wish I could say it was covering the entire county but it is covering an area of your county,” said Mr. Schill. “That’s probably one of the more difficult areas to get broadband to.”

Similar plans were brought to the attention of Jefferson, Henry and Van Buren counties. Each county provided significant funding.

“We do need the help of the counties to make it a reality,” he said. “But I think it’s dollars well-spent. It’s a very efficient program that is hard to accomplish until this platform came along… we’re pretty confident it’s going to be a success.”

He noted that this wireless proposal costs about $1,000 per broadband unit, a stark contrast from the $10,000 to $12,000 alternatives out there. Fiber projects also take up to seven years to fully implement, whereas Natel’s option could be operational within a year.

The proposal will need approval from the Board of Supervisors in future meetings, but the supervisors were open to learning more about the plan.

“There have been meetings and things that I’ve been involved with going back to 2015 regarding broadband expansion in rural areas,” said Supervisor Jack Seward Jr. supervisor said. “This is by far the best news that I’ve heard since then.”

The internet service provider will have to negotiate a grant agreement with the state, as well as a development agreement with the county.

Natel Broadband was founded in 1996 and offers internet service to rural communities in southern Iowa.