Between the Lines

Between the Lines by David Lias There are a lot of big ticket items the city of Vermillion needs to address in the near future, ranging from necessary street repairs to the proposed construction of a new city hall.

Cable TV at first appears to be an issue that doesn't rank that high.

Is cable television as important as adequate health care services? Or pure drinking water? A good transportation system? Modern fire and law enforcement protection?

We'll talk about that later.

Television, now in its fifth decade here in the Midwest, is a well-established part of our lives. And so are computers, the Internet, and the services they offer, from e-mail to data transmission.

It's time for Vermillion to approach cable television and Internet services much the same way as the city's forefathers addressed the arrival of electricity to the community.

It's time for the city to seriously consider launching its own, municipally-owned cable TV and Internet service.

Mediacom, the city's cable and high speed Internet provider, has announced a 16 percent price increase in basic cable service costs in Vermillion next month.

The monthly rate to receive a total of 63 local and cable channels here is jumping from $31 to $36.

Mediacom claims the increase is necessary because of increased operational costs and and cable programming expenses that have continued to escalate.

One can't help but wonder, however, if the price jump also may be necessary to help Mediacom subsidize its operations in cities where it is facing competition.

Mediacom and PrairieWave Communications, are both vying for cable and Internet customers in Yankton.

PrairieWave was formerly known as Dakota Telecommunications Group (DTG) and most recently was part of McLeod USA Telecommunications.

To compete with PrairieWave, Mediacom offers cable and Internet services for significantly less in Yankton than in Vermillion.

The rate for a Mediacom basic cable family package � the same service that soon will cost $36 monthly in Vermillion � is being enjoyed by Yankton television viewers for approximately $20 a month.

It may be argued that simple market forces are at work here. Vermillion shouldn't stand idly by and be a victim of that market, however.

It can change those market forces dramatically by starting its own municipal cable and Internet service.

Citizens of Spanish Fork, UT are reaping the benefits of rolling up their sleeves to construct their own city-owned cable and Internet service. It's called, appropriately, the Spanish Forks Community Network.

Spanish Fork has a population of just under 20,000. It's largest employer is the local school district. In many ways, it is similar to Vermillion.

There is one significant difference, however. The cost of cable television in Spanish Fork is much less.

A basic 21 channel cable package in the Utah community cost $9 per month. Expanded basic, with its 73 channels, cost $29 per month. Digital basic cable in Spanish Fork, with over 100 channels and 30 digital music channels, costs $37 a month � about the same amount that Vermillion residents soon will be paying for basic family services.

Spanish Fork easily justifies its decision to form its own cable and Internet service. "Spanish Fork Cable Network (SFCN) offers services that no other company will provide and can only be implemented by the public sector," states the community's Web page. "SFCN has been established to serve the residents of Spanish Fork, not the interests of some large corporation ? SFCN offers needed competition to the incumbent service providers. While we have seen neighboring larger communities' services and prices improve, our city has been left behind."

Spanish Fork also notes that SFCN improves cable television and high speed Internet services in its community and entices its current incumbent providers to offer improved services.

A municipal cable system in Vermillion may prove to be the best way to ensure that a modern system provides good service at reasonable prices.

A municipal cable system in Vermillion can increase the community's ability to attract new businesses and develop new economic opportunities. A municipal system can ensure that the infrastructure needed to support economic development will be provided.

A municipal cable system, we'll agree, probably won't work for every community. We believe that exploration of this idea for Vermillion, however, has merit.

Further research may reveal that building a municipally-owned system in Vermillion will be justified by cost savings that will accrue over the lifetime of the investment.

It's time for Vermillion to take control of its future in the area of telecommunications. It's time to consider forming our own cable and Internet service.

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