The National Broadband Plan recommended that Congress clarify that State, regional, and local governments should not be restricted from building their own broadband networks. When providers cannot meet the needs of local communities, the Plan provides that State, regional, and local entities should be able to respond accordingly, as they were able to do when municipal governments distributed electricity to thousands of rural communities during the 20th Century.
Chanute's Gig: Rural Kansas Network Built Without Borrowing
The Institute for Local Self-Reliance has just released a new case study on community broadband -- this one examines how Chanute, Kansas, built its own broadband network over a period of many years without borrowing.
Local businesses are strong supporters of the network. From Ash Grove Cement to MagnaTech, business clients have remained satisfied subscribers. The network continues to encourage economic development and provides connectivity options that attract high bandwidth employers. The network generates $600,000 per year for Chanute’s Electric Utility, 5 percent of which goes to the general fund as a franchising fee each year.
Author Christopher Mitchell, Director of the Telecommunications as Commons Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, believes Chanute can offer valuable lessons to other communities across the United States. “This community has demonstrated that communities can meet their own telecommunications needs with smart public investments — they did not wait for national corporations to solve their problems.”
City Manager J.D. Lester refers to municipal broadband as “the great equalizer for Rural America,” saying: “You don’t have to live in Kansas City to work there.”
The City also operates a 4G WiMAX network that connects public safety and is used to feed Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the community.
Local leaders plan to expand the network to offer access to all residents and businesses in the future as extending it become financially feasible. As it expands, it will offer the potential for smart-grid type investments in the gas, water, and electrical utilities — all of which are owned and operated by the local government.
One of the key lessons other communities can take away from this case study is how planning and prioritizing community investments in broadband can greatly benefit the community, especially local businesses. Chanute took advantage of several opportunities to expand what started as a very basic network over the course of many years at low cost.