Fort Scott has a reasonable number of choices for internet access. Here is a list of what is available depending on exactly where you live.
- AT&T – DSL services provided over phone lines. Your lines can be further than 14,000 feet from the central office and some of the older lines won’t work.
- Suddenlink – Provided over cable connections. If you can get cable, you can probably gett this.
- RTS – Local wireless provider.
- Valnet – A wireless provider from Independence.
- Alpha Wireless – A new wireless provider in town. It isn’t clear if they are up and running yet or not.
That looks like quite a few options, but they all have one thing in common. They all get their bandwidth to Fort Scott from AT&T. So while there can be a certain amount of competition in how to connect your home, there is no competition in the underlying resource–access to the Internet.
Does this lack of competition drive the price up in Fort Scott? For comparison, I have a server in downtown Kansas City. For $50 per month I can get a 100 Mbps connection to the Internet. This would be enough bandwidth to let a local ISP supply reasonable service to a large number of customers. Now we’d expect that it would cost more to get a connection like that in Fort Scott than in Kansas City, but how much more? If it would cost 20 times more that would be $1,000 per month. Obviously that is more than what you’d want to put in your house, but it wouldn’t be out of reach for a business–particularly an ISP.
When I talked to AT&T about getting a connection like that, the initial price started out at around $39,266 per month. With a long contract and a special they were running, the price would come down to $31,333. After talking with a few different people, it sounded like there might be a way to cut that in half and get down to the $15,000 range. Still that is 300 times what bandwidth costs in downtown Kansas City. Could you imagine if your electric or telephone bill cost 300 times more than it costs in a larger city? Instead of a $90 per month electric bill, it would cost you $27,000 pre month. Instead of a $32 per month phone bill, it would cost $9,600.
If you were starting a business that required a reliable high speed connection to the Internet, would you go to the town where it costs $50 per month or the town where it costs $15,000? The future of small towns like Fort Scott is going to be very closely tied to their ability to tap into reliable inexpensive bandwidth. As long as everything comes through a single provider, there is no competition to drive the price down. Right now, no matter how many new ISPs start up in town, they are are all going to be reselling bandwidth from the same expensive source.
If Fort Scott wants to be competitive in the future, we are going to need to find ways to get competitively priced bandwidth into the city.