For a few weeks now, some Independence leaders have mentioned a possible new initiative: a city-owned broadband network.
Council Member Tom Van Camp brought it up briefly during a primary election candidates forum earlier this month. Assistant City Manager Adam Norris had it listed at the end of a priorities list for Power & Light during a presentation to the Public Utilities Advisory Board. During the Chamber of Commerce's 100th anniversary banquet, new Board Chair Sonci Bleckinger listed exploring broadband as one of the chamber's top priorities.
Such a venture would not be about cable television. Rather, it would be about providing high-speed internet service for citizens and businesses. The city put out a request for information last summer for leasing city-owned fiber, with no promise of further solicitation or contract.
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.”
Norris told the PUAB that the third-party IPL manager – city staff are scheduled to interview the three finalists this week – could also advise the city on such a project, or it might be more civic-led by the Chamber of Commerce.
“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,” Norris told PUAB.
Bleckinger said the chamber’s involvement would be simply to help gather information to determine feasibility.
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.