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From left: Donald Kocian, Dean Thompson, Gary Gibson and Jeff Bertholdi
Tawnie Wilson | SBJ
From left: Donald Kocian, Dean Thompson, Gary Gibson and Jeff Bertholdi

2023 Economic Impact Awards Business Advocate of the Year: SpringNet, a division of City Utilities of Springfield

The Connecting Fiber

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Fiber internet may be the fastest on the market, but getting Springfield connected has been a slow and steady process over decades.

“Back in 1994, City Council passed an act to investigate entering the communications market, and in 1997, City Council launched SpringNet,” says Jeff Bertholdi, director of SpringNet, a division of City Utilities of Springfield. “And we received our telecommunications certificate from the Missouri Public Service Commission.”

The original plan, he says, was to provide connectivity to the city and county municipal buildings and grow organically from there. After a 2016 Community Leadership Visit to Huntsville, Alabama, Bertholdi says CU and SpringNet officials asked themselves: “What does fiber mean for our community?”

At the time, only about 10% of Springfield had access to fiber.

“It was obvious we had a thirst for fiber and gigabit speeds, so it made sense for us to head down that path,” Bertholdi says. “Now, we serve over 118,000 addresses.”

The fiber expansion project began construction in December 2019 and is one of the larger economic development projects in Springfield’s history, bringing gigabit fiber to over 100,000 homes and businesses in the Springfield area.

“We had a three-year effort to provide fiber access to every address in Springfield,” Bertholdi says.

SpringNet installed 1,000 miles of fiber across the city, providing access to affordable high-speed internet to homes and businesses.

Ben Jones, City Utilities’ business and economic development manager, says the fiber spurs innovation and growth throughout the city.

“Springfield is part of the fastest-growing region in the state in terms of percentage of growth,” Jones says. “We offer a quality of life where you can afford to live, enjoy a little commute, and with the fiber expansion project, we now have better internet than most cities. Springfield now compares with a handful of cities in the U.S. that offer fiber to the home.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and many found themselves working from home, Jones notes suddenly 5 Mbps internet speed was no longer functional, and Springfield was ahead of the curve, with The Wall Street Journal listing Springfield as the top place in the country to work remotely.

With SpringNet’s project, competition has brought even more fiber to the area, says Jones.

“Surrounding areas want it, too, so there’s a rural broadband initiative,” he says. “I’d love to see the entire southwest region have it.”

Bertholdi adds, “We got in on the front of the train, so we were ahead of the times. Now, you see a lot of communities following suit. Springfield is now in the arena of Kansas City and Austin, Texas, and we’re done with our project. Now, there are 10 to 30 larger cities wanting to be just like us.”

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