With its fiber "ring" around town nearly complete, City of West Plains officials were urged to continue pursuing internet bandwidth as a separate city utility by city council members and some community representatives on Tuesday of last week.

City Administrator Tom Stehn, along with other city department heads, gave an update on the project during a special city council work session as city officials plan 2017- '18 fiscal year projects.

With the consensus being that city-provided internet would keep costs down, reliability high and serve as a significant asset when trying to attract businesses and residents to the area, West Plains' officials will look into offering a broadband service to all users in West Plains.

No timeline has been developed at this time, with Stehn and other department heads being tasked with developing an implementation plan that will first start with a "pilot" project to test the service in commercial and residential areas.

Since December 2015, the city's electric department has been installing a fiber ring around West Plains in advance of any possible legislation prohibiting municipal broadband. While that infrastructure is currently under construction, the city is now able to offer reliable, high-speed internet to commercial users in West Plains as it connects city-owned buildings with secure and fast fiber connections.

In addition to the commercial offerings, Stehn said the city would also implement Wi-Fi "hotspots" at key locations in West Plains and continue fighting legislation that prohibits municipal broadband.

Although West Plains is currently served by a handful of private internet service providers, the city formed a "broadband study group" of community representatives in 2015 in response to complaints of rising internet bills and unreliable service in town.

That research team recommended to city council in December 2015, that offering internet as a separate utility was a viable option for West Plains. From that recommendation, the city began researching ways in which local businesses and residential users could benefit from its fiber network to share in the monthly cost.

Including residential and commercial internet service, that cost to the city is expected to total $13-$15 million, with the majority of that expense being incurred in the first five years.

The hope is that existing and future businesses benefit from not having to pay higher prices for inferior bandwidth, with some West Plains businesses reportedly paying up to three times more for bandwidth than their big-city counterparts.

City-provided internet can serve as a significant asset when trying to attract business and industry to the area, in addition to aiding students and home-based businesses, city officials said.

Stehn indicated that additional staffing will be needed to implement the new internet utility, with the city needing to hire at least 10 additional workers to begin the service.

Across Missouri, West Plains has helped lead the way for communities seeking to fight legislation governing municipal broadband, which the city feels puts smaller communities at a disadvantage with bigger cities when competing for business and industry. In fact, with its infrastructure in place, West Plains has now positioned itself to offer up to 1 gb of dedicated service for any commercial entity in need of high-speed internet, making it one of the few "one-gig capable" cities in Missouri.

WEST PLAINS DAILY QUILL

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