One of the more intriguing concepts under consideration in city government is expansion of the city’s fiber optic network to provide cable television services to Bartow residents.
There are a number of issues, both practical and philosophical, to be resolved, but in our opinion, it’s worth a look.
The most obvious question is why should city government go into a business customarily operated by private enterprise, and in this case, in competition with an established cable system.
It’s a fair question, and it deserves a straight answer: the cable system operated in Bartow is a long way from state-of-the-art, and that is a generous appraisal. The provider no longer even has a local office.
In his years on the city commission, James Clements has said publicly and repeatedly that he gets more complaints about cable TV service — over which the city has no control — than any other issue.
Customer stories about the numbers of times they have called the company with service complaints have a “can you top this?” theme. We know of one customer who made eight appointments for a simple equipment installation. One was cancelled; the service tech simply didn’t show up for another; it took six more service calls in which a technician actually responded to get the job done.
Want a billing adjustment for hours in which the service is out? Good luck.
Bartow deserves better.
The city’s information technology department started stringing fiber optic cable four years ago, primarily to serve the IT needs of city government and some commercial accounts, including the Bartow Municipal Airport industrial park.
The department has 100 miles of fiber optic cable in place, a staff of five, and a budget of $579,000. It has brought about significant improvement to IT services within city government.
It says it has the capability of doing the same for residential and commercial accounts.
City Manager George Long told the Citizens Government Academy last month the city has the capability to begin offering cable TV services within a year. But he emphasized that before making a multi-million dollar investment, the city has to be sure it is getting it right.
And it must be done at a profit, not using city financial resources to subsidize the service, he said.
We fully agree with the parameters outlined by the city manager.
The city must be sure it knows what it is doing.
There is more to running a cable TV operation than stringing cable, just as there is more to publishing a newspaper than buying a printing press.
As with the electric system, the main justification for the city to offer cable TV service is to make a profit for the citizens, relieving pressure on property taxes and other revenue sources.
According to Frank Canovaca, the city’s IT manager, the fiber optic system could provide telephone service and Internet access as well as cable TV.
We have heard little public clamor for better telephone and Internet service, but they offer additional revenue possibilities, as well as an incentive for current providers to optimize their performance.
Canovaca believes that the city can offer better service at a lower price, while creating a local fiber optic utility offering “outstanding service by someone you may know.”
It is an attractive concept.
But a note for city commissioners: if the city’s cable service falls short of the mark, the response can no longer be: “The city has no control over that.”
To the citizens, that may be the biggest attraction of city-operated cable TV.