Recently, we let you know about the situation in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, population 15,039. The town is now investigating the possibility of building their own fiber network. They have had several community meetings and a “vote of the people” is set for May 22, 2012.
Pamela Hill is investigating the twists and turrns in a series of articles about the vote. In one of her articles, Hill looked into another Arkansas community, Paragould, home of the annual “Loose Caboose” Festival. This community, located in the northeast corner of the state, has successfully operated their own cable network since 1991. Unlike Siloam Springs, the people of Paragould weren’t focused first on generating new revenue for the local government, they just wanted to be able to watch tv for a reasonable price.
Back in 1986, Cablevision was the only provider in Paragould. Hill spoke with Rhonda Davis, CFO of Paragould Light, Water & Cable:
“The public wasn’t happy with Cablevision’s service or rates,” Davis said. “We took it to a public vote and did it.”
Prior to Paragould’s decision to build their own network, the City had a nonexclusive franchise agreement with Cablevision. The town was dissatisfied by the service they received and, in 1986, Paragould voters approved an ordinance authorizing the Paragould Light and Water to construct and operate a municipal cable system. Three years later, there was a referendum that authorized the city to issue a little over $3 million in municipal bonds to finance the system.
That same month, Cablevision filed suit alleging antitrust violations, breach of contract, and infringement of first and fourteenth amendment rights. The district court dismissed the antitrust and constitutional claims and Cablevision appealed unsuccessfully. The case attracted attention from lawyers and business scholars across the country.
By 1998, the City had purchased Cablevision’s remaining service and began offering Internet service. The City has continually upgraded their investment, which now consists of fiber lines that run to nodes throughout the city. Coaxial cable delivers signal and data from nodes to homes.
Paragould Light, Water, and Cable now serves approximately 11,000 retail cable television customers, and 6,550 retail Internet customers. Their fiber infrastructure is over 50 miles in the town of 26,113. From the Hill article:
Davis said the city does still run a debt for the cable and internet systems. The $3.2 million bond issue for cable in 1989 has been refinanced and increased over the years. It should be paid off in 2014, she said. But the system has been paying for itself since the sixth year of service, according to Davis.
During the first five years, the city increased property taxes by $100,000 a year to help make payments. The extra taxes amounted to $1 to $2 a month for most households and still allowed customers to get cable “way cheaper” than what they paid the private company, Davis said.
Paragould customers can get cable television for as low as $14.30 per month and Internet access varies from as low as $24.95 for residential service to $62.95 for business class.
Photo used creative commons license