John Giffin

Tribune reporter

The City of Chanute and Unified School District 413 expressed their opposition to a bill that would limit Kansas municipalities from establishing or expanding communications networks, except in unserved areas, at a luncheon in the Memorial Building Wednesday.

Senate Bill 304 limits municipalities not in unserved areas from providing video, telecommunication or broadband services. The bill also would not allow for municipalities to purchase, lease or maintain any facility to any business or entity to distribute communications services.

The city opposes the bill because it’s legislation that allows lawmakers in Topeka to define what local communities can or cannot do. 

“It’s about home rule, local choice,” Chanute Utilities Director Larry Gates said. “It’s not about what happens in Topeka.”

Chanute insurance agent Phil Chaney and former city commissioner believes the bill was intended to establish a level playing field between the municipalities and private communications providers and to ensure all providers follow the federal telecommunications act of 1996. 

Chanute has established its own fiber optic network for government use and as a service to local businesses. The city is exploring the possibility of expanding fiber optics to most homes in the community for possible automated metering infrastructure and to provide cable, internet and phone service to individual homes.

The expansion of the fiber optic network would cost the city $20 million and would need a subscription rate of 34 percent of Chanute households to break even in three years, based on information shared at Monday’s luncheon.

City officials have approached communications provider AT&T about installing a fiber optic network in Chanute, an idea AT&T had no interest in when approached in 2009, Gates said.

USD 413 Superintendent James Hardy said he is impressed with the current fiber optic network provided to schools by the city.

“I’ve been at big schools and small schools and none had as much bandwidth as we have in Chanute,” Hardy said.

Phil Jarred of Jarred Gilmore & Phillips PA said the two private companies providing internet services, CableOne and AT&T cannot meet the needs his business requires.

“Both services are not fast enough,” Jarred said. “It costs us too much not to have the fiber optics.”

The Senate Committee on Commerce hearing for Senate Bill 304 is Tuesday at 8:30 p.m.

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