The city of West Plains is conducting an online survey on a proposal to add broadband Internet service as a public utility option for local residents.
In February, a plan to connect all city buildings together with broadband Internet service was presented to the West Plains City Council. The plan was to bring the city building up to speed with their Internet and improve cybersecurity.
But by August, the proposal grew considerably. City officials started receiving letters from residents and businesses saying they desperately needed better options for their Internet needs. Thus began a community-driven effort that could end with West Plains businesses and residents having access to broadband as a city utility.
At the September City Council meeting, a committee was charged with looking into the possibility of the new utility, and research into the proposal has been kicked off by a core group and four sub-committees. The group will present their findings to the City Council during the Dec. 21 regular meeting.
Currently, West Plains officials are asking residents to fill out a survey that asks multiple choice questions on Internet and broadband topics. The survey only takes about five minutes to complete and can be found at http://goo.gl/u0L4Yo or by calling City Hall.
Officials say they plan to connect the city buildings regardless of any other information that is presented.
“The city’s ultimate goal is to be able to offer high-speed, affordable Internet to their business owners and residents via broadband fiber-optics,” said West Plains City Administrator Tom Stehn.
One potential roadblock could be proposed new legislation blocking cities from providing Internet as a local utility.
State Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, introduced a bill during the 2015 session that would have made it illegal for municipalities to offer Internet services to its residents. The bill did not pass, but the issue could be re-introduced during the next session.
Schaefer, who is currently campaigning in the race for attorney general, did not return Quill calls seeking comment.
Stehn confirmed that the possible legislation is a factor in the city’s decision-making, but said city officials will, regardless of that, continue to look into the residents’ best interest.
State Rep. Shawn Rhodes acknowledged there is a chance that Schaefer’s bill blocking such a utility addition could be re-introduced in the next legislative session, but he told the Quill that he hopes West Plains does move forward with their proposal.
“Let’s face it, there are some companies that don’t want cities to be able to offer Internet service, but I hope the city goes through with this,” Rhodes said. “It will be good for West Plains and help with future growth.”
The city of West Plains is following other Missouri cities in similar attempts there to provide Internet services, including Nixa, Harrisonville and Kennett.
One city that already offers the service as a utility for residents is Chanute, Kan. Stehn said that the high-speed Internet that Chanute residents receive costs each household about $40 a month.