INTERNET STUDY

The Houston City Council on Monday authorized a study to explore bringing a municipal internet system to the community.

The Houston City Council unanimously approved a study Monday to determine the feasibility of operating a municipally owned fiber-to-the-home internet system.

The project will look at the condition of utility poles, costs and create a map to show how much fiber would be required to connect homes and businesses to a system that could offer speeds up to 1 gig. The review — which comes at minimum costs from a Springfield firm —is expected to take about three weeks or so, said Rob Harrington, director of economic development for the City of Houston.

Harrington recently attended a statewide summit, the Broadband Leaders Academy, which brought state and federal experts to a meeting organized by a broadband unit within the Missouri Department of Economic Development. It was sponsored by the Hawthorn Foundation, a private group that works to spark the economy in Missouri, and the Missouri Department of Agriculture. Attendees had the opportunity to engage in discussions with state leaders, receive the latest updates on important initiatives, and participate in two in-depth technical assistance sessions on community broadband planning and funding strategies.

Tim Arbeiter, director of the Broadband Development Office, said the state is working to increase high speed connectivity, digital literacy, help students with homework by providing better access and use high-speed internet for worker training.

Missouri will launch a $5 million broadband grant program in late summer 2019. The highest priorities will be unserved, then underserved areas.

Harrington told the council that faster internet was important to make the community attractive for recruitment of industry and residents to the community. He said Houston’s study will be scrutinized by the U.S. Commerce Department, which attended the state academy and will work with communities.

The need for faster internet was highlighted by industry consultants, Newmark Knight Frank, who issued a report in May on Houston’s readiness to attract jobs. It urged the city study its infrastructure and aim toward being a “gig city.” Houston already owns its own electrical system, and profits from it have historically paid for many improvements over the last half century.

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