Government-owned Internet’s deficit rises for third year

By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog

NASHVILLE — Tullahoma’s decision to offer government-owned Internet services will cost city residents even more money this year than previously, according to an audit state Comptroller Justin Wilson released this week.

The public Tullahoma Utilities Board offers these Internet services through a package known as LightTUBe.

A water tower advertising LightTUBe’s cable and Internet services.

According to Wilson’s audit, the deficit for the city’s Fiber Optics Fund is now $2.3 million, as opposed to previous fiscal years when it was $2.1 million and, before that, $1.6 million.

Tullahoma Mayor Lane Curlee and TUB representatives didn’t return Tennessee Watchdog’s phone and email requests seeking comment Thursday.

Wilson’s audit, however, did contain a written response from city leaders.

“The business plan showed that we would operate at a loss for the first three years,” city leaders said. “We are 54 months into this business plan and are cash positive with only depreciation keeping the Fiber Department from being a net positive. We project we will be cash positive including depreciation during fiscal year 2014.”

Lane Curlee

In addition to regular Internet services, TUB also offers an ultra-high speed Internet service known as Gigabit that costs customers $300 a month.

City leaders previously told Tennessee Watchdog they hoped Gigabit would attract high-tech industry to their city of 18,000 people and serve as a tool of economic development.

When Tennessee Watchdog last checked, the Gigabit service only had one customer.

Only about one-third of Tullahoma’s residents use LightTUBe, while the remainder use private competitors, City Administrator Jody Baltz previously told Tennessee Watchdog.

Additionally, Curlee told Tennessee Watchdog in December the city’s investment into these services hasn’t paid off.

TUB General Manager Brian Skelton

TUB General Manager Brian Skelton

TUB General Manager Brian Skelton, who in the past has refused to answer any of our questions, told the Tullahoma News he and other city officials aren’t motivated by profit.

“We’re not in this to make money. That’s the difference between us and privately owned telecommunications companies,” Skelton said.

Contact Christopher Butler at chris@tennesseewatchdog.org. or follow him and submit story ideas on his official Facebook page.

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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