Levi Dinkla is vice president of iTV-3, a local technology firm that delivers high-speed internet, data, television and voice services to residents and businesses in central Illinois over a state-of-the-art fiber optic network. Founded as a division of Family Video, iTV-3 has grown dramatically in recent years, even as it lays the groundwork for future growth by continuing to build out its fiber network, leveraging the public’s insatiable demand for bandwidth. Dinkla spoke to iBi about iTV-3’s services, the benefits of fiber optics, and the regulatory challenges of this capital-intensive effort.

Tell about your experience at Family Video and its relationship to iTV-3.
I worked at Family Video in multiple roles, ending as a regional director where I worked to develop real estate to open new stores, as well as staff and operate those stores with district managers. In November of 2010, I had the opportunity to come to iTV-3 as our vice president, which is the role I am in today. We are a family-owned business; iTV-3 is a sister company of Family Video. When starting iTV-3, we saw fiber optics as a great way to extend our relationships with customers in communities that were underserved by traditional telephone and cable companies.

What is the mission of iTV-3?
Having fiber optics available will be essential to the long-term economic competitiveness of central Illinois. Our mission is to bring world-class technology and customer service to underserved communities. iTV-3 provides access to bandwidth which makes our communities better places to work, live, and start or expand a business. As vice president, I work with our president, Keith Hoogland, and our talented, local employees to grow the company.

Describe the services and value offered by ITV-3.
We offer internet, data, television and voice services over our 100-percent, Fiber-Optic-to-the-Premise network. Telephone and cable companies are among the lowest-rated customer service companies in America. We think bringing our customer service culture from Family Video into the telecommunications industry gives us a real competitive advantage. Combining true customer service with world-class technology is our real value proposition.

How does fiber optics work? What are the benefits of fiber over traditional lines?
Fiber optics uses waves of light to relay information over very clear glass. Fiber optics can carry more information (bandwidth) over longer distances with more consistency than traditional copper or cable lines. Fiber optics to your home or business ensures you have the infrastructure in place to get the speed you need, now and in the future.

What are the potential economic benefits to the community of a fiber optic network?
Fiber gives local companies and communities a competitive advantage by allowing access to the same high-capacity bandwidth which is typically only available in larger markets. Fiber-to-the-Home provides another economic benefit. Industry research indicates homes with access to a fiber optic network have up to a $5,000 higher market value than homes without fiber optics. We have also added over 60 new technology-based jobs to the area since 2009, and anticipate that number continuing to grow.

What is Fiber-to-the-Home? Why does it matter how close fiber comes to the home?
It means we build fiber right up to—and into—your home or business. Unlike copper-based cabling, fiber does not lose bandwidth over distance, which enables us to provide more consistent and higher speeds. It makes the communities we serve more attractive places to live, to those who value Internet connectivity, which is a lot of people. Can you see yourself moving to an area that only had dial-up Internet? After experiencing fiber, that is what DSL or cable Internet feels like. We get contacted every week by people who view our service availability as a deciding factor in moving their family or business.

What is involved with creating a new fiber optic network?
First, there has to be demand. We need to know there are enough homes or businesses signed up for the service to generate a return on the tremendous investment involved in deploying fiber optics. We work with various technologies to provide multicast, unicast and IP service, as well as SIP and traditional POTS lines for telephone. That’s a lot of industry-speak for really cool equipment installed and maintained by super-smart people, which enables us to provide a great high-tech service to people and businesses who don’t want to worry about how it works.

What are the greatest challenges of this effort?
The business is incredibly capital-intensive—this is not something you can just build and hope customers show up. Getting everyone in the community to realize the value of what we are trying to do and then get on board with us is our greatest challenge. Luckily, most people get it once they find out about us, and the support we have received has been tremendous. The political process of obtaining a franchise agreement with the community to deploy TV service is the greatest regulatory hurdle we face. Regulations around deploying TV service are archaic and largely written contemplating an environment in which the cable TV provider has a monopoly. We do not need a franchise agreement to provide internet or telephone service, but do for TV. In Peoria, for example, we provide internet and telephone service to many businesses, but do not have a franchise agreement, which is why we don’t provide residential service. In Morton, Pekin and East Peoria, we have service available to both homes and businesses because we do have a franchise agreement. TV service is critical to get the kind of participation needed to offset the costs of building out residential areas. We are currently working with the City of Peoria in hopes of obtaining a franchise agreement.

How have bandwidth needs grown in recent years? What are the key drivers of this growth?
Bandwidth needs have skyrocketed, and we see that continuing. Typically, you see a 50-percent growth in Internet usage every year. With us, it’s higher because we are growing so quickly. Tablet computing, mobile devices and a migration towards online video over traditional TV have been the drivers. If you have ever had to wait for the buffering wheel to spin before watching an online video, you know the frustration with copper infrastructure capacity.

What territory does ITV-3 currently cover? How many current customers? Any plans for expansion?
We currently serve the Greater Peoria area for businesses. In Pekin, Morton and East Peoria, we offer both business and residential service. We are approaching 10,000 total business and residential customers, and looking at expansion in central Illinois. We have a franchise agreement with the City of Bloomington, and are in talks with Peoria and several other communities. The outcome of those talks will determine where we build in 2014 and 2015. We still have some areas of East Peoria and Pekin to finish up this year as well.

What are the trends you see coming in your industry?
Gigabit service to the home and a continued migration away from traditional TV to online entertainment will drive demand for higher download speeds. The Internet of Things and a general move toward communicating out to the world rather than just digesting what is being sent downstream to you will increase the need for more consistent and faster upload speeds.

What’s next for ITV-3? Anything else you’d like to add?
If you have not checked us out, please do. Give us a call at (309) 689-0711 or check out itv-3.com. We reinvest the revenues we earn into building out more infrastructure. We have invested over $30 million to date locally, and anticipate the build-out cost for the entire area to be over $150 million. We are going to need a lot of people and businesses who want our service to propel this build-out. As a locally-based company (with current headquarters in downtown Peoria), you have a chance to support the upgrade of this area’s infrastructure while getting an upgrade in your internet connectivity. We are excited to be a part of Startup Peoria, and look forward to the opening of the new coworking space on Adams Street, as well as supporting anything that will help to create new businesses in this area. At the end of the day, the more connected the Peoria area, the more competitive we will be in the global economy. iBi