Information has become the lifeblood of the 21st century. Much like Water, Electricity, and Natural gas. Inexpensive access to data, is something that our city needs to fuel it’s growth in the coming years. Without a modern and reliable data infrastructure we will not be able to attract new businesses to our city, and thus our citizens will miss out on the associated economic opportunities, which new businesses bring with them.
The current providers of these information services, Charter Communications and Bellsouth, have no natural incentives to make the expenditures which are necessary to modernize their systems, and to provide us with the quality and levels of service we require. They have made an uneasy truce with each other, neither wishing to rock the boat by actually competing.
Competition in this vital sector of our economy should be fierce with many different players all seeking to provide us with the most reliable and highest level of service possible. The reason that this is not happening is that FCC rulings have declared that Cable based Internet services are a information service and not a telecommunication service, and other rulings reclassified DSL Internet service as one as well. This removed requirements that they open their networks to competitors. This means that for broadband Internet access and high-end telecommunication services you are stuck with only two cost effective options, cable from Charter, and DSL from Bellsouth.
I have had dealings with these companies and their offerings and have been unhappy with both. The frequent outages, repair times are excessive, businesses are charged punitive rates (The same 3MBS connection that I get at home for 40$ per month would cost a business $200-300 per month), and the prices we pay continue to rise even as their associated costs decline.
The Clarksville Department of electricity wishes to form a telecommunications authority in order to offer these types of services. They propose that they build a city-wide fiber network, fiber optic connections would be extended to all homes and businesses in the city.
They want to do this primarily because they could then check meters, disconnect and reconnect service, and manage other electricity functions from their central office. However, being realistic they also understand that it would also allow them to provide telephone, cable television, on-demand video, video-conferencing, community access TV channels, high speed Internet, and a number of other services some of which are currently not available in Clarksville. This would also bring competition to the currently stagnant local Telephone and Cable TV markets.
The city council voted to allow the Clarksville Department of Electricity to proceed and it passed however, they did not have the percentage of votes in favor that the state requires before they will create the enabling legislation.
I believe that the city council has approved a voter referendum to be placed on the November ballot. Charter Communications, Bellsouth, and their front groups will oppose this, and they will probably attempt to prevent it from happening at all. It is not in their best interest to have real competition occur in our city, their markets. However it is in our best interests. I strongly encourage everyone to vote yes, on this question when the time comes. In the mean time, talk to your friends, neighbors, acquaintances, and your elected representatives, as you can be sure that Charter and Bellsouth will both be talking to theirs.
For some updated information see the Charter Sucks! article