Commentary

AT&T Allowed To Weigh In On Town's Effort To Build New Fiber Network

In October, city leaders in Chanute, Kansas voted to move forward with the creation of an ultra-fast fiber broadband network.

When complete, the network is expected to offer residents and businesses in the small southeast Kansas city 1GB connections for a cost of $40 a month -- which is cheaper and faster than anything now available.

But AT&T, which currently offers city residents DSL service with a maximum speed of 6 Mbps, could throw a wrench into the city's plans.

This week, regulators with the Kansas Corporation Commission granted the telecom's request to intervene in the agency's consideration of Chanute's request to sell bonds. A 1947 law reportedly requires the Kansas Corporation Commission to approve cities' attempts to sell bonds.

AT&T said in its petition to intervene that its interests as well as its customers “may be affected by any order or determination of the Commission.”

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The telecom adds in a statement that it hasn't taken a position on whether the city should be allowed to move forward with the fiber network.

“As a provider in the area, any decision made by the KCC could impact AT&T’s business operations, which is why we asked to intervene in the proceeding,” the company said in an email to MediaPost.

Obviously, Chanute's plans could have an impact on AT&T, considering that the new fiber-to-the-home network will offer service that's both speedier and less expensive than AT&T's current offering. If the new network moves forward, residents would have every reason to defect from AT&T in favor of the new service -- unless AT&T can step up its offerings.

So far, AT&T hasn't shown an inclination to do so in Chanute. While AT&T plans to expand its fiber optic network to dozens of cities, Chanute isn't one of them, according to advocacy group Public Knowledge. That organization today issued a public call for AT&T to avoid putting up obstacles to a new fiber network. “No one should deny rural America the choice of building high-speed broadband networks in a world where the Internet is so vital to a community’s growth,” the group stated.

Earlier this year, the incumbent broadband providers in Kansas backed a bill that would have severely curtained the ability of municipalities to create broadband networks. That law -- which would have been far more extreme than the 1947 measure requiring the Kansas Corporation Commission to approve bond sales -- was shelved in February.

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