High-speed Internet closer to reality for some

Monday, April 22, 2013

Businesses in Fort Scott are closer to getting high-speed Internet access. And while that's one step removed for the area's residents, still, progress is being made.

That was the assessment of Macy Cullison, economic development director for the city.

Cullison said much remains to be done and efforts continue. But the city has already made strides.

A group of seven to 10 local business owners and citizens with technology interests and backgrounds has been at the forefront of working to make better connectivity a reality in the area.

The major hurdle that the group faced was immense, said Cullison.

Companies initially said, "We don't have enough customers to warrant the investment here," she noted, a problem faced by small towns across America.

Yet the group persevered.

"They saw a need and started about a year and a half ago, working diligently to push the Internet forward here," said Cullison.

The city joined in the effort to help where it could, she said.

"For economic development, it's a top priority," to improve connectivity speeds and access.

"Residential customers will get pulled along with that (progress)," she continued. The problem, said Cullison, is that providers find it economically challenging to provide service to residential customers and still recoup their cost. Providers opt to target more lucrative business customers first, then add residential later.

Tech companies have found that, "With residential customers, there's just so many of them," spread over a sizeable area, that it poses a logistical and fiscal challenge "to get the fiber to their homes."

Still, with the city's businesses one step closer, connectivity improvements in the home aren't that far off.

"The average residential customer won't see the benefits yet. It'll take awhile to get things put together."

But that's coming, she said.

"We're seeing some movement. It's not fixed, but there's progress. We don't have final commitments.

"We're working with providers and infrastructure companies. The infrastructure folks do the fiber build-out, and then the providers purchase the bandwidth and sell that to the end user.

"Sometimes, one company will do it all," she noted.

"We've made progress just getting the fiber into Fort Scott.

"We're working on attracting new providers and we're working with current providers."

The city is willing to work with everyone involved, she added.

"We don't want to run the risk of promoting one company over another. We're here to advocate for the city as a whole.

"It has taken us awhile to get to this point but just getting here is a major success. We've climbed the cliff to get to step one and that in itself was extremely difficult.

"Now, we have a fiber forum from more than one source.

"We're moving on to the next step, which is to get cost-efficient, high-speed Internet access. We'll continue to work with the providers and encourage them to continue their upgrades.

"Progress is important. The problem isn't completely fixed. But we do have something to celebrate," she said.