What is Internet Freedom for McHenry County?
A. We are a non-profit (501c4) organization of community volunteers from McHenry County, Illinois that is dedicated to providing better broadband access and Internet development in McHenry County, ensuring freedom of information, right to privacy, and Net Neutrality. We unite around the idea that to together, we can build a better future for ourselves and our children.
What exactly are you advocating for?
A. We are advocating for a community-owned fiber-optic network with many benefits.
- Fiber-optics to everyone. The best there is. The backbone of the Internet to your house. Instant uploads and downloads.
- Competition on that line. Multiple providers fighting for your business.
- Designed to keep costs low by being owned by you as an Electric Cooperative.
What are the expected benefits of making this vision a reality?
A. By optimizing Internet access with fiber optics, McHenry County will address strategic development, communication, and education goals. Such as:
- Attract new businesses and enable further growth of our current small businesses;
- Better education and test scores for our children;
- Increased value of private property;
- Provide much faster, cost-effective, reliable internet service to all McHenry County residents and businesses;
- Provide a locally controlled resource that will benefit residents and businesses, not corrupt Illinois politicians;
Why do we need fiber-optics in our county?
A. Right now, we are paying a lot more than most other countries for poor service and slow speeds. The profits are also going to private companies out of state. There is a better, cheaper alternative. Quick explainer video: https://youtu.be/izYslyrm3oU
Why a community-owned broadband network?
A. Lack of competition driven by a few giant companies has lead to a monopoly. The existing companies refuse to compete and expand their networks. We propose a truly free-market approach through a partnership with our own small business where we make the decisions and gain true fast, reliable service while keeping the profits. Quick explainer video: https://youtu.be/jWcBftCOxEc
Has this been done before in other counties?
A. Yes! Over 190 other communities have successfully introduced cooperative fiber networks. Among these “Next Century Cities” are neighbors in Carbondale, Highland, Urbana-Champaign, Illinois. See the full list here!
Is community-owned fiber-optics working, and all that it promised, in areas where it has been implemented?
A: Overwhelmingly, it has succeeded, and more than often, it has delivered what it has promised. However, it is not a piece of public infrastructure that is a “build it, and they will come.” Community-fiber is a business. It has been accountable and self-sustaining. That means it’s important to have a business plan, feasibility study, engineering study, conduct your market research and have the right talent running it. Hundreds of communities have done it, whether rural or urban, and it has been successful, much like electricity has been for our country.
Community-owned fiber-optics is a failure, right?
A: Some communities had faced difficulties when it came to their community-owned fiber-optic project. However, there are hundreds of examples where it has gone well. Like with any business or service, which community-owned fiber-optic is, you have to put together good plans like a business, marketing, and financial, then execute them well. Some of these communities have done it poorly.
The advantage that McHenry County has, we can learn from those mistakes and tap into the vast knowledge and experience in the market place to avoid and mitigate those risks. We can ensure our success by utilizing those resources.
Anyone, including McHenry County, going into the community-owned fiber-optic business has to acknowledge that community-owned fiber-optic is not one of those “Build and they will come” scenarios. It’s a business, and you have bonds and customers to serve. If done right, we can have a sustainable public asset that will last for generations and provide us cost-effective, reliable, universal broadband Internet for everyone.
Here is a link that will go further in-depth and the rebuttals to various reports that say community-fiber networks are a failure.
Besides faster Internet, what benefit can I expect?
A. One benefit other communities have seen is an added 3.1% ($5,000) value-added to their property. Imagine actually raising your investment value with a community resource you can use now and enjoy in profits later. Read the Fiber and Broadband Association study findings here.
How will fiber-optics help create jobs?
A. Fiber-optics creates local jobs by encouraging businesses to move into the area and encourage people to work from home. The fastest-growing source of new business in the telecommute/virtual space. That means more payroll taxes paid and less traffic congestion for our streets. This also means vacant properties are more attractive to other businesses looking to move into our community near a commuter airport, major highway, and a stable, community atmosphere.
I use Internet primarily from my smart phone, not my home computer. How will this benefit me?
A. All of the smart devices you use, from your phone to video gaming, online streaming services like Netflix, and more, all rely on your home’s WiFi and Internet connection. Even your cellular network provider bridges gaps in service from residential Internet services in a web of ‘borrowed” hotspots. The problem is your devices are capable of so much more performance but are limited by the speed of your network connection.
Bandwidth needs are growing at an exponential pace; other technologies (wireless (4G, 5G (See our 5G Deep Dive for more information, etc.), DSL, etc.) cannot keep up. We are already far behind and can only move forward through an infrastructure upgrade with the strong reliability and longevity fiber provides.
If we replace our copper and existing cables with fiber, when will that need to be upgraded?
A. Fiber is the only solution with the capacity to handle advanced smart grid applications long-term. The longevity for fiber is estimated at 100 years or more. This means we have a “dig once” approach to build a community-owned fiber network that really is multi-generational infrastructure investment.
Who maintains the fiber-optic lines and what is the on-going cost?
A: IFMC is advocating for the creation of a non-profit co-op, which you are part-owner of, to save guard the fiber-optic asset and to keep costs low. If a community-owned fiber-optic network were to be created, that non-profit co-op would maintain the fiber-optic lines. However, at this time, our current public fiber infrastructure is maintained by a Government Co-Op at the McHenry County level (Consortium for short).
We don’t have enough information to determine the on-going costs because engineering or even per-engineering estimates have not been completed. However, the revenue from the services provided would cover any on-going costs and negate the need for continued investment.
Is IFMC going to be the utility co-op ISP?
A: No. IFMC is advocating for the creation of a non-profit co-op, which you are part-owner of. This is to safeguard the fiber-optic asset and to keep costs low. We are not advocating for a government entity to own and operate the fiber-optic network, nor have any governmental entities expressed interest in doing so. Additionally, it is far more effective to utilize a central entity to manage an asset than each governmental entity having to manage it themselves.
Why a utility co-op?
A: There are many communities throughout the United States that have built their own fiber-optic network. Nearly all of them have been very successful. In Illinois, we have a few municipally-owned broadband networks in Highland, Rock Falls, Rochelle, Campaign-Urbana, and more recently, Western Springs has expressed interest in building a network.
In McHenry County, there are large trust issues because our elected officials have, and continue to, betray our trust. After speaking to hundreds of community leaders and speaking with the government administrators, we heard a common thread that nobody wants to run and nor do they want the government to run it.
The solution to this is we should create a non-profit utility co-operative that owns and maintains the fiber-optic assets, which is owned by those who utilize the services. That way, the fiber-optics are protected and will not be subjected to the changing political or financial winds.
What is the cost for this infrastructure?
A: We think that it will cost less than what you are currently paying now. Many other communities have built their own infrastructure for less or at the same costs as the commercial varieties. There are many variables to consider, like the # of homes, density of those homes, above or below ground for the fiber-optics, the funding method (property taxes vs. non-property taxes), and more.
We do know how much it will cost us, but we can look below to see what others have paid to get an idea.
Where are you in the process?
A: We are in the middle of Educate Yourself and Others, Inform the Public and Build Support, and Build the Business Case.
The steps in the process are:
- Establish A Concrete and Viable Vision
- Review Existing Community Assets and Commercial Assets
- Educate Yourself and Others
- Inform the Public and Build Support
- Build the Business Case
- Conduct a Feasibility Study
- Conduct an Engineering Study
- Referendum (Possibility)
- Obtain Financing
- Support and Repeat Success
Educate Yourself and Others
Learn about the topic. Educate others on the topic. Become informed on the topic. We have an entire section in Learn for more information.
Inform the Public and Build Support
Solid and vocal support by local leadership has been a broad theme for most successful networks. Local officials and government staff are sometimes limited in building and expressing support; for example, they are generally unable to use public funds to combat misinformation campaigns from incumbent cable or phone companies before a referendum. Having solid and vocal support makes it more important for individual and institutional supporters of a community network to do more than offer passive support.
Having even one or two volunteers that engage with local officials and government staff can make a huge difference in steering your local community toward better broadband infrastructure. Internet Freedom For McHenry County has been structured in such a way to pool our knowledge and resources together so that we can work together to bring Internet Freedom for everyone. It begins with self-education, then continues sharing that education with the local officials and government staff, advocacy for better infrastructure, and pushing the government to take action. IFMC can use your support by becoming a volunteer in your community advocating for your infrastructure. After all, this infrastructure, like roads, is your infrastructure at the end of the day.
Build the Business Case
IFMC’s Broadband Survey is an essential part of building the business case for a community-owned fiber-optic network. The survey is there to identify McHenry County areas that are unserved or underserved by broadband Internet service and to identify demands for fiber-optic broadband Internet service generally. All the information we collect is used to map the unmet needs or demand for high-speed Internet and communicate the potential need to providers or interested elected officials.
This is important because many of our elected officials are wary of the public. By joining us and becoming a supporter, we give ourselves a collective powerful voice and provide our elected officials the courage to make minor steps, like hold public hearings, Share the Broadband Survey, Become Broadband Ready, and more.
Building the Business Case leads to Conducting A Feasibility study, which is essentially hiring an expert in the broadband/telecommunications field to validate or invalidate the assumptions and ensure the network’s success.