TN bill would let public utility offer speedy Internet to private businesses

By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog

NASHVILLE — Clarksville has a public utility that offers one of the fastest Internets to exist, and officials want to expand that service outside city lines to benefit some multi-million dollar companies in a nearby industrial park.

The problem: Tennessee law prohibits government utilities from providing these services outside their municipal boundaries.

Two state legislators, Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, and Rep. Joe Pitts, D-Clarksville, have introduced legislation to go around state law.

But representatives from two businesses in that industrial park told Tennessee Watchdog Monday they are already connected to the Internet, even though they likely have much slower Internet connections.

Mark Green

AT&T and Charter Communications both service the Clarksville area, including the industrial park, Pitts said. An official with AT&T said the company services the park with speeds of 6 MB per second, while a Charter official said that company services the park with 100 MB per second.

The Clarksville Department of Electricity, which would expand Internet services to the park under the legislation, offers a full GB, equal to 1,024 MB, for a cost of $249.95 per month.

Green said he introduced the legislation for economic development reasons.

“In principle, I’m against government-based entities getting into commercial enterprises,” he said. “The government doesn’t do a very good job with that, but sometimes they are the only ones that can. So in this particular case I think it was the right thing to do.”

Pitts told Tennessee Watchdog that catastrophe could strike these industrial park businesses at any moment, and they would handle these problems better if they had Clarksville’s publicly owned broadband.

“Large manufacturers, while they may not need a primary source of broadband services, they often like to have a backup source just in case their primary source is struck by lightning.”

“This could put them out of business or even delay their business,” Pitts said. “That’s primarily why we are trying to give our department of electricity the option and opportunity to provide that service.”

“The consumer wins because they have choice, and that’s my answer to that concern. How can it be bad if the consumer wins when they get better service at a cheaper cost when there’s competition?”

The industrial park includes tire and zinc plants.

Representatives from two of those businesses, Spear and Agero, who declined to give their names, told Tennessee Watchdog Monday their offices already have Internet connectivity, yet they would say nothing more about what kind or with what company.

Joe Pitts

Mark West, president of the Chattanooga Tea Party, told Tennessee Watchdog last week that Republicans such as Green and Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, who has proposed similar legislation, have forgotten their roots.

“Where is it in our Constitution that says we have to expand broadband service to every corner of the state?”

Certain Republicans, West said, campaign by spouting principles of limited government, which, in reality, they don’t believe in.

“Yet, when they get down to where the rubber meets the road their professed values don’t align with some of the legislation that they will sponsor, support and vote for. This is a prime example,” West said.

To that, Green said the following: “My response to that is if the commercial guys get in there and they offer competitive service then I wouldn’t support my own bill.”

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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