Officials in Cleveland, Tennessee, want their city’s public utility department to offer Internet service, but one city council member says there are no guarantees the plan will stay within its projected $45 million costs.
City Council member Bill Estes, one of seven council members expected to vote unanimously Monday night in favor of investigating the idea, said he’s not worried about the project possibly going over-budget.
“You can’t guarantee anything. If you think about it, there’s not even a guarantee the sun will come out tomorrow,” Estes said, adding Cleveland has a reputation as a city that manages money well.
Estes and other city officials said they are more than capable of managing a Government Owned Network within costs, despite other cities having problems with them.
“All you have to do is look at the city’s track record, and you’ll realize that we will know what the risks are,” Estes said.
As Tennessee Watchdog previously reported, various public utilities that offer Internet, including those in Clarksville and Tullahoma, run up deficits and have a hard time containing costs.
City officials, should they go along with the idea, will only do so gradually, as part of a phased-in pilot project, said Cleveland Utilities President Ken Webb.
“We would allow ourselves to do pieces of it and gauge how those pieces have been before we made a decision to go further with it,” Webb said, adding officials will use “a methodical, conservative” approach.
“We aren’t going to put any money at risk unless we have a high level of confidence in knowing that it’s a doable project.”
If taken all the way, the project would take 14 years to pay for, Webb said, adding that long-term financing would include borrowing money from the city’s electric division.
Estes, Webb and Mayor Tom Rowland said the city’s two primary ISPs — AT&T and Charter — are wildly unpopular with city residents.
“There are some parts of our county that have no service at all,” Rowland said in an emailed statement to Tennessee Watchdog. “Personally, I don’t generally like government to compete with private business unless they can’t or are not providing better service,” Rowland said.
“This has been an overwhelming community response. I get it through personal contact and phone calls. There have been letters to the editor.”
Webb, meanwhile, points to a study the city commissioned showing city residents want a new ISP.
Charter did not seem to have available contact information for media on any of its websites.
Meanwhile, AT&T spokesman Daniel Hayes said Cleveland is “a very competitive market.”
Quoting one Cleveland Banner story, the AT&T spokesman said residents and business owners are happy with what they have.
“Elected officials and city leaders in Cleveland will have to determine whether or not the city should spend or borrow against limited taxpayer funds for the significant ongoing expenses of building, maintaining, and upgrading an Internet service in a highly competitive market in this rapidly changing industry,” Hayes said.
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