In the spring of 2019, Houston, Missouri, sent out a call to citizens to share their thoughts on whether or not they'd like to subscribe to Internet access from a municipal network. Less than a year later, the city of around 2,000 people has forged ahead and has hired an engineering firm to begin work on their multi-phase fiber optic project.
Phase One is a Go
Economic Development Director in Houston Rob Harrington says that the city hopes to have the first phase — an eighteen-mile fiber ring that connects city facilities — completed and functional by the end of the summer.
Houston owns and operates a municipal electric utility, which is a big plus for communities interested in better connectivity through publicly owned fiber optic network infrastructure. The Houston Herald reports that the city’s electric utility has brought in additional revenue that, over the last fifty years, has contributed to public improvements in Houston. Houston is the seat of mostly rural Texas County, located in south-central Missouri; the community is about 3.7 square miles.
Another factor in Houston's favor: the city owns the utility poles, which will reduce make-ready time and reduce final cost. A feasibility study, which reported a favorable situation in Houston for a publicly owned Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) system, suggested all but about three miles of the first phase of the infrastructure could be deployed on poles. Sewer lift stations, water towers, and other city facilities will connect, which will allow Houston to reduce telecommunications costs. The city will use reserves to fund the first phase of the project.
When phase two is deployed, residents and businesses throughout Houston will have access to symmetrical gigabit (1,000 Megabits per second) connectivity, says City Administrator Scott Avery. The goal is to provide an option in addition to existing service from CenturyLink and CableAmerica, neither of which provide the capacity that Houston needs. Select portions of downtown have an additional choice from a nonprofit fixed wireless Internet access provider operated by a local electric cooperative. Community leaders want to spur economic development and keep the community competitive.
All Indicators Positive
Christopher commented on the project for the Herald:
Christopher Mitchell, director of Community Broadband Networks, said...that his organization is seeing projects in communities like Houston, where faster access doesn’t match that of metropolitan areas. 'However, we are also seeing communities that have what would be called decent, modern service, also considering these networks because they are frustrated with the constant price hikes and poor customer service,' he said.
Mitchell, a national expert on municipal broadband and how local governments are ensuring their businesses and residents have the Internet access they need to thrive, said there are challenges for local governments seeking to bring better connectivity to their constituents, but they are almost always worth the effort after much hard work.
'That challenge is keeping many on the sidelines as they hope some new technology will make the hard work unnecessary,' he said.
'I've been working in this space for 12 years and read about people hoping for that magic technology since the late ’90s. I see nothing on the horizon that suggests to me that these networks will soon not be necessary to ensure high quality of life and economic opportunity.'
Harrington told us that community leaders feel positive about the project:
We are excited to see what this new opportunity can do for the City and are anxious to get the project up and going....I am very hopeful this will not be the last time that you get to write about our community and the amazing fiber system that we will have!
Image of the Texas County Administration Building by Kbh3rd [CC BY]