Community leaders in Independence, Missouri, have recently brought up the topic of publicly owned networks and indicated that they'd like to learn more about how Independence might fare with a muni. The Examiner recently reported that the issue has arisen during a primary candidate forum, at a Public Utilities Advisory Board (PUAB) presentation, and at a Chamber of Commerce event. Various city officials have expressed interest in the topic.
The idea, Mayor Eileen Weir and Chamber President Tom Lesnak said, came in part from a short trip last fall to Fort Collins, Colorado, which had just established a municipally owned broadband network.
Part of the appeal, they said, is that Independence already owns much of the necessary infrastructure, with utility poles and a fiber optic cable network.
“It provides service to all citizens and residents,” Lesnak said. “In Fort Collins, they had to bury everything, and it took a lot of time. We own the poles, and we have a lot of fiber in the ground already.”
Weir cautioned that right now, the broadband idea remains in the “exploratory” stage.
“We’ve seen some places and gathered some information about cities who have implemented broadband,” Weir said, adding that she also saw a presentation about municipal broadband during a National League of Cities conference two months ago in San Antonio. “It’s just something to look at to see if we can do.”
[Assistant City Manager Adam] Norris told PUAB, “If this would gain momentum then we would need to start planning for it in our budget, but it is very early to tell what the timeline is.”
For now, city leaders are still doing their research:
Municipal broadband would involve some capital investment by the city, but it also presents a possible long-term revenue source, Weir said.
“We would have to have more information to put it as a budget item,” Weir said. If the next city budget included a line for broadband, the mayor said, it would simply be for research purposes.
“There’s a lot to learn,” she said.