Chanute, Kansas Proves There Are Alternatives to the Big Telecom Criminals
The United States has some of the most predatory telecoms in the world, who rip-off their customers as standard operating procedure. With the recent demise of net neutrality, rollback of telecom regulations and suspension of consumer protections, the situation will only get worse, unless people choose another way, like Chanute, Kansas and other forward thinking communities have done.
Although there were other options, Chanute, Kan., chose to go its own way to develop a telecommunications service to support its local businesses and the community at large.
As Chanute Utilities Director Larry Gates put it, “We’re a full-service city. We have electric, with our own water generators, even our own gas. We have city trash routes and a landfill.” The only things the city did not have, which could be considered normal utilities for a town, were telephone, cable TV and the Internet.
Of those three, the only one Chanute could consider offering without having to arrange for major third party involvement was the Internet. So, when the question came up as to how to provide this service, the city began looking at how to do it on its own. It was as simple as that.
Chanute had an excellent starting point in that it had already wired itself with fiber optics, starting back in 1984.
The reason Chanute did that so long ago is that it was trying to keep track of data from multiple remote locations around the city and needed a way to monitor that data with computers. The system, called SCADA, was set up with fiber optic communications because it was clear – even at that time – that fiber was the way to go in order to be prepared for the future. This was an example of how Chanute seems to do everything with foresight, vision and the right kind of investment, even before it is absolutely necessary to do so.
Later on, in 2001, that system was very much in need of a major upgrade. Far more city service monitoring points had to be interconnected than before, including lift stations, water intake, water treatment and more. Once again, there were future needs to consider, so Chanute decided to do more than it had to. It overbuilt – deliberately.
The system the city built ended up including links to security monitoring, with cameras in key locations and Wi-fi in the parks. That first major upgrade was completed as planned in 2005.
Since then, the system has been expanded even more, including the addition of some 50 miles of cable. Chanute did it, as Gates said, “one piece at a time.” And it was not cheap.
But it was worth it. It made it possible for Chanute to put in high-speed Internet that could serve the city far better than the then-existing network provider was able to. It changed business, made economic development even more attractive and transformed the way the citizens worked with one another.
The expansion stabilized the Internet for all who had it available to them. In discussing how it made a difference, Gates pointed to the example of a drivethrough restaurant that could not authorize debit or credit cards because its communications lines were so antiquated. That is fixed now. And reliable VOIP services are also now available to many.
In spite of all that, Chanute is still far from done with its plans. It wants to move from being primarily of service to government institutions and businesses to taking care of all of its residential customers as well. The cost projected to do this, which would enable fiber-to-home connections for everyone on the existing electrical network, is high. And the plans would require another 140 miles of fiber to be installed around the city. Unfortunately, this last step of expansion has been stalled since 2015 – mostly, it seems, because of the lack of a public vote on the bond issue.
Although the project may be on hold, however, Chanute’s past vision in advance planning and its decisions to overbuild in the past have resulted in the system working well at this point. And those in charge of it are also still optimistic about the future.
When a solution to the funding issue does happen, one thing is certain: Chanute’s planners will make sure the next generation of this piece of infrastructure is well thought through and ready for a future that can easily support the city’s future needs.