To see what makes
Encircling and crisscrossing this town of 9,100 people is more than 30 miles of some of the fastest Internet fiber cable in the nation.
The system has already brought state-of-the-art broadband speeds to government buildings, the town library, the community college, the hospital and some local businesses. Every park and green space and most of the outdoor areas downtown are covered by free Wi-Fi.
And now, these hardy pioneers of the digital age are embarking on an ambitious project to become the first community in
The new system will be 100 times as fast as the national average Internet connection and cost
This year, the town beat back a bill in the state Legislature -- written by a cable TV industry group -- that would have outlawed community broadband systems anywhere in
Residents say their download speeds are glacially slow and that trying to watch a movie on
Count among the dissatisfied customers City Commissioner
She has Internet service at home from the local cable provider, Cable One. She has phone-based service from AT&T at her downtown antique and home-decor business, Comforts of Home, where she can't get on the city system yet.
She said they both work poorly and she was astonished to see how much better, cheaper and faster the city can provide Internet service.
"What I have today (at home), I can hardly ever get on," she said. "And then I watch the ads they have on TV: Oh, we have super streaming and everything. It just isn't happening here."
The service at her business is "better, but it's still not good," she said. "It still knocks me off, so I still get upset with that. I have a lot of work to do and I don't have time to wait."
When complete, the city system will offer service at a speed of one gigabit per second.
City residents will pay
To put that in perspective,
Or, to use another comparison,
But he said the commercial companies told city officials they will only install digital fiber if they can recover the cost in two years -- and
At one point,
Webb set it up so any Mac user who zooms in far enough from the starting point on Google Earth will go straight to the satellite view of the mosaic at the corner of
But despite that history,
The fiber-to-home project was the sole subject of a
The city is exploring options for Internet grants and low-interest loans that could reduce the cost from the current estimate, Gates said. In addition, the
When customers order service, workers will mount the converter box outside the home and install a standard Ethernet jack inside. The homeowner will have the option of using wired connections or setting up a wireless router for whole-home connectivity, Gates said.
Bucking rural decline
Woodyard is Exhibit A for the young professional returning to small-town America. He graduated from
He said good Internet access is something he got used to in college and in
"I'm a younger person," he said. "I'm a bandwidth hog; I'm always doing stuff on the Internet."
An online search by the KansasWorks office at
But young workers won't stay in a small town if they can't get access to the kind of Internet-based business, education and entertainment opportunities they have in big cities, Woodyard said.
"That's the days they grew up in," Woodyard said. "If we want to attract people back into the community, it's something we need to do."
Another thing Woodyard likes about the do-it-yourself approach is that it will keep
Cable One closed its local office and moved to Parsons, 35 miles away. When the city deals with AT&T, it's primarily through phone calls to
In contrast, municipal broadband "rolls money back into the community," he said. "It provides IT jobs in the community and it provides a higher level of service to the community."
The existing municipal fiber system and the expansion will continue to be run through the city's electric utility department to keep the costs isolated from the city's taxpayer funds, said
He said it will cost about
Assuming that 30 percent of residents sign up -- a conservative estimate that officials see as their worst case -- the system should pay for itself in about 10 years, he said.
After that, the income from Internet subscriptions can go to support other city services.
"It's just a huge value there that's going to be enjoyed by the people of
The system will be a boon to the city's economic development efforts to attract and retain businesses, he predicted.
Just about every business relies on the Internet for communication with customers and suppliers, ordering materials and making sales. Being able to offer "superfast, no-excuses access" is something other small towns just can't match, Pratt said.
"I've never heard of it before," he said. "To me it smacks of being near brilliant."
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