Chanute, Kansas Proves There Are Al­ter­na­tives to the Big Tele­com Crim­i­nals

Trillions - - In This Issue -

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.

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