Steve Shute, Gardner mayor, recently conducted a live time feed from his social media account , so he could answer questions regarding his proposed fiber optic cable utility to be constructed by the city. His broadcast had about 20 viewers. Submitted photo
Special to The Gardner News
Steve Shute, Gardner mayor, hosted an interactive livestream video event on April 21 to explain and answer viewer questions regarding the “Wired City Project.” Shute proposes to bring fiber internet by having the city construct the fiber infrastructure.
Previously, Shute has indicated that a fiber optic “backbone” would be run through the city, and homeowners and businesses would be charged about $3,000 to connect, plus a monthly fee. The idea has not been discussed or approved by the council. Exact costs, dates and funding ability have not been determined.
Shute spoke about the project in his election campaign and after elected, at the State of the City address on March 6, cited it as one of “four visionary projects” he would pursue “to take Gardner to the next level.”
The April 27 video was devoted to the topic, and Shute said that there would be town hall meetings coming in the future.
The event announcement said it “is intended to inform, explain, and clear up some misconceptions regarding the City of Gardner’s ‘Wired City’ initiative to bring reliable, high-speed, fiber optic infrastructure to the home and business.”
The live stream video was not on the city’s YouTube channel but instead broadcast on Shute’s Facebook page. The recorded session is still available there.
Shute answered questions as they came in live. The viewer count during the live portion was in the teens for the majority of the live session, hitting a high of 24 about halfway through. The live event was about an hour and twenty minutes in length.
In the video, Shute says that Gardner must compete with other area cities for economic development. He named Overland Park, Olathe, Shawnee, Lenexa and Leawood, saying, “All of these places have a robust fiber infrastructure.”
He says it will provide benefits for all of the city’s current utilities and facilities, as well as residential and business users.
He wanted to make it clear that the city would only be building the infrastructure and would not be providing internet service.
“The City of Gardner does not want to provide internet service. We want to have an open access framework, open access network, for private firms to offer internet service, and other services on top of that fiber infrastructure,” he said.
As an analogy, Shute compared the proposed arrangement to KCI airport, saying the airlines do not build the terminals but instead lease space in the terminals to provide service. The similarity is that the city would build the infrastructure and then offer access to private business internet service providers (ISP).
One of the advantages of city ownership of the infrastructure is that it would bring more service providers to the city. When a private business installs and invests in infrastructure, they are not likely to make that network available to competitors, resulting in a captured customer base with only one choice.
“Let’s say a Spectrum type company wants to provide internet service but isn’t interested in putting in the fiber on the ground, because it’s not cost effective for them to do so. [If] the City of Gardner puts in the fiber infrastructure, then the internet service provider can provide the service. We are lowering the barriers to entry, so any ISP can utilize that, and they’ll all be treated equally. So instead of having one provider with a fiber network that they own […] you could have as many ISP’s as you want.”
There are two main pieces to the concept – the infrastructure ‘backbone’ and the ‘last mile.’ The ‘backbone’ is the installation of the main fiber framework throughout the city, mostly in conduit on utility poles. The ‘last mile’ will take that fiber from a drop box access point to the individual end user.
Several commentor’s strongly stated that they were opposed to using money from the electric fund surplus to finance this project.
“There have been a lot of questions and a lot of complaints about using the utility funds for this project. I totally get it. I’d be willing to go and take it to the voters,” Shute said.
He acknowledged the chance and said if the people didn’t want it then it wouldn’t happen.
He said there were other options for financing including existing bonding capacity in the general fund, an enterprise fund or deployment in an incremental fashion, bringing it to one area of the city at a time over a period of years.
Shute said the initial expense of the initial backbone was not a huge amount of money compared to other city projects
One commentor said Shute was assuming this was going to happen.
“I’m not assuming this happens. I’m assuming that we’re going to get as much information as we can from people, and if they don’t want it, they’ll be sure to tell us, but I’m not gonna just assume that nobody wants it. I think there’s a need in this community for this,” Shute replied.
“If the overwhelming sentiment in this community is that we don’t want fiber then we won’t run it,” Shute said. “The will of the people is what’s going to drive this thing, not my own personal ambitions. Although I have a real passion for this you know, and I want to see fiber come to Gardner, I’m one person. I am a taxpayer, but I’m one person, and you know, the rest of the community is going to make that [decision], not me.”
Shute said this was not government trying to shove something down people’s throats.
“I’m trying to lead alright, and leaders will sometimes take risks, and they will put themselves out there, in order to be able to advocate for their ideas. And I believe strongly about this idea.”