City cable market needs competition

City cable market needs competition
We are practically on the eve of electing who will represent us on the Vermillion City Council for four year terms.

The terms of aldermen were recently lengthened. The people we now elect to city offices serve for the same length of time as a governor or a president.

That's plenty of time to become well-grounded in the affairs of Vermillion, to learn its strengths and weaknesses and to take action to make our community a better place.


We can't fault the city council for being thorough. Some issues, however, have been on the burner for too long of a time. Some action is finally being taken that will hopefully lead to the construction of a new city hall. But just the planning process alone on this project has taken countless meetings over at least a two year period.

We're not building a Taj Mahal here, folks. We can do better than that.

There is one other issue that demands a more concerted effort by city leaders, because the longer the delay in taking action on this issue, the greater the cost to Vermillion consumers.

As we've noted on this page before, there are a lot of big ticket items the city of Vermillion needs to address in the near future.

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. Or, it's time to start courting other cable/Internet providers to hopefully bring some competition to our city.

It didn't take long for Mediacom, the city's cable and high speed Internet provider, to begin hiking it rates once it got established here.

Usually, the news of a price increase was coupled with an announcement of better service, such as the addition of new channels, or a boost in the download rate for high speed Internet consumers.

That hasn't been in the case during the last few times that John Varvel, government relations manager for Mediacom, has visited the city council.

He stopped by in 2001 to discuss a 28 percent increase in Mediacom's rates here.

He also noted that Mediacom's rates in Yankton, at that time, were less than Vermillion, because "Yankton is not in the real world right now."

What placed Yankton in some distant galaxy, where Mediacom's usual way of doing business won't work?

Competition.

Yankton is served by both Mediacom, and what earlier was known as McLeod USA. Today, the company's name is PrairieWave.

"There are two providers there (in Yankton) and we're in a price war. One will survive and one will go away. We intend to be the survivor," Varvel told the city council in 2001.

Well, Mediacom is still in Yankton, mainly because it's a bargain there, cost-wise, compared to what Vermillion citizens are forced to pay. Oh, and the cost keeps rising here, too. Varvel was back in February 2003 to announce the addition of three new channels and a 16 percent rate increase.

The rate for a Mediacom basic cable family package � the same service that cost $36 monthly in Vermillion in 2003 � was being enjoyed by Yankton television viewers for approximately $20 a month.

Mediacom usually claims that rate increases are necessary because of increased operational costs and and escalating cable programming expenses.

In his last visit to the Vermillion City Council, Varvel announced yet another rate increase. Why? The extra money was needed to pay increases in health insurance benefits for Mediacom employees.

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, or by attracting a competitor to offer those 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 also believe, however, that 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 david.lias@plaintalk.net

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