Wildwood is putting out a call to local communications companies to come up with a plan to provide broadband Internet service through pilot programs in the western half of the city.
It especially wants providers willing to serve people living in the southwestern part of the city.
The hilly, tree-filled landscape west of Highway 109 makes it difficult for homeowners to pick up wireless signals. Likewise, wired installation for homes spaced far apart from each other can push up homeowners' costs.
"If service works there, it would work anywhere," said Rick Kallaus, a resident of the area needing service, who serves as chairman of the city's Rural Internet Access Committee.
Committee members want the companies to tell them the level of service they can provide, including upload and download speed; whether the service will be wired or wireless; any potential problems with providing the service; and how wide an area can be served, Kallaus said. The committee also wants to know what assistance the city would need to provide to support such a pilot program.
"But we want to move the process forward quickly, because a day doesn't go by without us hearing from people in that area about how desperate they are for broadband service — I hear the panic in their voices," Kallaus said.
The committee agreed June 7 to contact providers after the committee spent more than four years failing to come up with a solution for homeowners west of Highway 109.
The lack of adequate Internet access has hampered students who need to do homework online, businesspeople who want to telecommute, and consumers who want to buy products online. Some small pockets of the area receive rudimentary wireless service, but that technology is obsolete, Kallaus said.
Debbie Hyde, a real estate agent and a resident who lives off Fox Creek Road, said "my kids have to go to my real estate office in Ellisville to get their homework done."
Hyde said it is difficult to get people to buy homes in the area because of the lack of Internet service.
David Sewell, who also is on the Rural Internet Access Committee, said the city had applied for federal rural Internet stimulus funding. It was told the city as a whole wasn't rural enough to qualify and household income was too high relative to other communities in need.
Progress in getting access for about 3,000 households west of Highway 109 was further stalled recently.
The city had hoped to work out an agreement to have Charter Communications provide the service. Those negotiations have become more difficult as the two sides have failed to agree on how to finance installation of the system.
Jessica Hardecke, senior manager of communications with Charter, insists a surcharge to allow the city to recuperate its share of the cost never was part of the original proposal Charter submitted last year. City officials also insisted Wildwood retain ownership of the cable system's assets while the financial obligation was outstanding. Charter also rejected that idea.
City officials now feel compelled to look for other providers.
"We tried to find a one-size-fits-all best technology for all the unserved area, which led us to Charter," Kallaus said. "Now, we've spent a lot of resources and time on what seems to be a dead-end road."
Pilot programs may eliminate or reduce the city's need to provide funding.
"If a provider finds success in a pilot, there's no reason they wouldn't want to expand the program even without the city's monetary participation," Kallaus said. "With a number of vendors and service concepts in play, we feel the outcome will be better."
Greg Alexander, who also serves on the committee, said the idea of various small pilots won't solve the entire problem of service at once.
"But it will chip away at the need in an organized fashion," he said.
Resident Brad Schopp, who lives off Rathbun Hills Road, said he fears such a hodgepodge approach still might not serve those living in the most extreme terrain. However, Sewell said there are ways for homes in dead areas to pick up nearby wireless signals.
Some residents already have installed booster antennae on their roofs to get such a signal, Mayor Tim Woerther said.
"While there will still be holes, we can start filling in the patchwork, and a myriad of solutions will make that happen," Woerther said.