It’s time to tune out Mediacom

It's time to tune out Mediacom
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 yet another price increase in basic cable service costs here.

It's a tune we're growing weary of hearing. Two years ago, Mediacom hiked rates here by 16 percent, from $31 to $36.

Approximately 10 days ago, the cost of the basic monthly family cable package in Vermillion jumped once again, from $41.95 to $44.95.

Mediacom claims the increase is necessary because of increased operational costs, cable programming expenses and increases in employee benefits.

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.

To compete with PrairieWave, Mediacom offers cable and Internet services for significantly less in Yankton than in Vermillion. According to research by city staff, Yankton's Mediacom customers pay $27.95 monthly for expanded basic cable services.

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 Fork Community Network. And it's drawing attention from communities all over the nation.

The Ashland, OR, Fiber Networks Options Committee (we'll assume this is a committee of the Ashland City Council) held a video conference last fall with John Bowcutt, director of information systems from Spanish Fork.

According to Bowcutt, when Spanish Fork started its own cable television system, the the competition's subscribers dropped to nearly zero. In an effort to try to gain back part of the market being taken by the city-owned system, the competition dropped the price to $14 for expanded cable. Bowcutt said competitors had little success with this tactic and went back to their standard price.

Those competitors � AT&T and TCI � were neglecting Spanish Fork, Bowcutt said. He added that the community is involved and they understand that they own the system.

Bowcutt told the Ashland committee that the Spanish Fork system saves approximately $1.2 million per year to the community in pricing. He added that it is difficult to measure quantitatively what economic development it has brought in, but there was no high speed internet in Spanish Fork before the system started and businesses were going to leave if it wasn't available.

We aren't going to kid you. We know that developing a municipal cable system in Vermillion will likely be a costly, complicated project. We believe, however, that it is 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, develop new economic opportunities and ensure that the infrastructure needed to support economic development will be provided.

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.

The Vermillion Plain Talk editorials reflect the opinion of Plain Talk editor David Lias. You may contact him at

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