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Incumbent Unmasked As Fake Citizens Group In West Plains, Missouri
In an attempt to negatively influence public opinion, the incumbent cable ISP in West Plains, Missouri, was recently caught masquerading behind a phony citizens group. A real group of locals who support the community’s efforts discovered the astroturf connection and, with no way to deny their involvement, Fidelity Communications tried to rationalize away their subversive tactics to poison the project.
The Needs Of West Plains
About a year ago, we connected with City Administrator Tom Stehn, who described the situation in the south central town of about 12,000 people. Stehn told the story of how in 2015, the city decided to connect its municipal facilities with fiber and how, when word got out about the project, people in the business community approached the city. Even though local businesses could get cable Internet access, rates were up to three times higher than similar services in urban areas. There were also reliability issues that interfered with local commerce.
West Plains had also experienced significant job losses in recent years when several employers left town or closed shop. The city considered a fiber network an economic development tool and a way to keep the local hospital and MSU campus connected with high-quality connectivity. Stehn told Christopher that when new businesses considered moving to West Plains, one of the five questions they always asked was, “What kind of Internet access do you have?” It made good sense to expand the original plan to offer local businesses access to the publicly owned network.
West Plains was offering symmetrical connections to local businesses early in 2017 and had even started offering gigabit service.
The Pilot And The Incumbent
The city’s effort to bring better connectivity to a wide range of businesses and residents included a pilot project in West Plains’s Southern Hills district. In the fall of 2017, the city offered gigabit Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connectivity to approximately 80 businesses and 14 residences as a way to work out potential issues and refine their services.
Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 244
This is the transcript for Episode 244 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Christopher Mitchell speaks with Tom Stehn of West Plains, Missouri, on how the community is encouraging economic development. Listen to this episode here.
Tom Stehn: Businesses look to expand, move to other locations. There's usually five questions they ask, and one of them is always what kind of broadband do you have?
Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 244 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. West Plains, Missouri, located in the south central part of the state, is situated in the Ozarks, and known for its beautiful terrain, forests, and vistas. Despite attracting outdoor enthusiasts, the community has suffered some economic losses in recent years and is taking steps to boost economic development. Recently the city began offering high quality connectivity to local businesses. Tom Stehn, City Administrator, talks to Christopher this week about the city's foray into municipal Internet infrastructure. Tom describes how the city's plan to update municipal services led them to discover that local businesses also wanted better connectivity. He describes the city's project, their plan, and how they're starting out slowly to address any challenges they encounter along the way.
Christopher Mitchell: Hey everyone. I just wanted to thank you for listening and helping out to create a stronger Internet ecosystem, making sure everyone has high quality access. Please tell your friends, tell others who might be interested, about this show. If you have a chance to rate us on iTunes, please do. Several people already have. We really appreciate all of the comments, and we really appreciate you taking the time to listen to us.
Lisa Gonzalez: Now here's Tom Stehn, City Administrator, of West Plains, Missouri, talking with Christopher about the community's municipal fiber project.
Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell. Today I'm talking with Tom Stehn, the City Administrator of West Plains in Missouri. Welcome to the show.
West Plains Builds Network to Preserve Jobs - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 244
West Plains is one of the many population centers of rural regions that have been left behind by big cable and telephone companies. Located in the scenic Ozarks of southern Missouri, they are taking their digital future into their own hands with a modest fiber-optic investment.
City Administrator Tom Stehn strolls by our podcast this week to discuss what they are doing and why with a municipal fiber network that will connect anchor institutions and local businesses with high-quality Internet access.
We discuss the need, how they are financing it, and why the state legislature should not enact new barriers to local solutions. The community has already been placing conduit as part of a larger undergrounding effort, which will help them to expand the network over time.
This show is 17 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed.
We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.
Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.
Thanks to Break the Bans for the music. The song is Escape and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.
Businesses Can Get A Gig in West Plains, MO
The city of West Plains, Missouri, is now offering high-quality fiber connectivity up to 1 Gigabit (1,000 Megabits) per second to local businesses. The community is also exploring the possibility of a pilot project to a limited area of households as the city considers whether or not to also offer Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH).
No Time To Dawdle
According to City Administrator Tom Stehn, the decision to move forward was prompted by the state legislature: first last year's HB 2078 and now by SB 186, which will be heard in committee tomorrow, Feb. 14th. City leaders decided to preserve their local authority by establishing a broadband utility and expanding a plan to improve local connectivity. Since they are up and operating now, they expect to be grandfathered in under the language of the statute.
Open For Business
The network is now serving the West Plains Senior Center and the Ozarks Small Business Incubator. Ozarks Medical Center may soon be on the network and, according to Stehn, the city is still deploying the network but wants to let local businesses know that it is up and running. Access from incumbent providers is available in West Plains, but prices are high and some local businesses report rates up to three times those paid for similar needs in urban areas. City leaders see the network as an economic development tool that will attract new businesses and will help control prices for existing businesses and keep rates in check for residents.
West Plains is home to approximately 12,000 people and the county seat in Howell County. The town is in the center of the county, which is located on the southern border. Missouri State University has a campus at West Plains with a number of Associate degree programs and the community has an airport, the Heart of the Ozarks Fairgrounds, and several private schools in addition to the public school system.