Step by step, bit by bit, city-provided internet utility service is settling into West Plains.
The City of West Plains is preparing to enter the second phase of a fiber internet project that began on a recommendation in December 2015 to provide internet as a city utility.
In this phase, recently announced via flyers distributed to businesses and residences in the Southern Hills district, the city will offer the opportunity to test a three-month 1-gigabit (Gb) pilot network: Gigabit Passive Optical Network (GPON). Participation is free.
In the first phase of the fiber project, completed in January 2016, about a dozen major employers were invited to sign on to a citywide network as “anchors.” With that phase’s implementation, city officials said the network allowed phone service to be dropped from city buildings, eliminating a $1,300 phone bill.
“We have to do this to compete,” said City Administrator Tom Stehn. He says many investors won’t even look at a community without fiber.
The overall goal, according to the city’s fiber broadband plan, is to connect all city facilities and business clients purchasing a business class internet connection. In addition, key locations are hoped to serve as public Wi-Fi hotspots during periods identified as “high pedestrian traffic.”
SOUTHERN HILLS PILOT
Up to 80 businesses and 14 homes between U.S. 63 on the north, old U.S 160 on the south, Ramseur Farm Road on the east and Garner Boulevard on the west are invited to participate in the Southern Hills pilot and give feedback. Eligible homes are along Chuck Lane and Robin Wood Drive west of Preacher Roe Boulevard, said Will Atkinson with the city’s Information Systems.
These prospective users will have access to the city’s GPON, a 1 Gb connection shared among all users within the pilot’s boundaries. Officials say the network shouldn’t suffer from slowdown associated with heavy internet traffic provided by cable or DSL means.
Atkinson says the city’s fiber crews will work closely with Lamar-based Finley Engineering to ensure the network built can handle customers’ needs. That company is a seven-year Top 100 FTTH (Fiber to the Home) Network Organizations by Broadband Communities. The list includes other such household names as Google, CenturyLink and AT&T.
The pilot network operates similarly to cable or DSL internet, says Atkinson, but GPON fiber is set up in such a way that allows data to flow more consistently through the network.
“The best imagery I can think of for your scenario is a garden hose,” he explained. “You only have so much pressure, so when you start splitting it out and running multiple garden hoses off of one water source, the pressure drops and you get less water to each. This is the traditional model of DSL or cable internet.
“When using GPON fiber, we can use a similar deployment idea as DSL and cable, but ensure that the ‘pressure’ (or in this case, data throughput) doesn’t decrease in an overly impactful way. There will be fluctuations in the data throughput with more people using the internet at the same time, but not as severely as you will find in DSL or cable.”
“Data throughput,” put another way, refers to the flow of data up and down the network.
FLOW OF TRAFFIC
All pilot testers will be required to keep existing internet connections during the pilot. Atkinson said this ensures customers will still be connected in case an outage occurs on the GPON pilot.
Participants will also sign an agreement with the city’s fiber department to give feedback biweekly by e-mail. Information systems staff will use that feedback to observe peak times for businesses and residences alike, and what traffic looks like at 8 a.m. on a Wednesday morning versus 5 p.m. that same day.
Atkinson says it will also monitor traffic compared between a busy weekday or a rainy Saturday afternoon.
“It … is part of the overall picture that we want to see,” said Atkinson. “Those types of variances in usage have to be taken into account as we support the network.”
The information gathered from the pilot will be used to make sure the data flow is appropriate for customer needs based on the speed of internet the city decides to commit to, he added.
The speed of the pilot – one Gb per second – is not necessarily the final speed the city intends to offer. Rather, it’s a benchmark against which to measure traffic challenges and strengths.
“As participants begin using it, we will monitor and see what types of fluctuations occur,” said Atkinson. “People will have access up to 1 Gb per second of data [during the pilot].” He added the amount of usage will affect whether users