Opelika Considers Smart Grid Network, Charter and Others Misinform Public

Opelika, Alabama, is home of some 27,000 people and a public power utility called Opelika Power and Light. On Tuesday, Aug 10, the city will hold a special referendum to decide if the community can build a network that will cover telecommunications and smart-grid services.

Alabama is one of the states that preempt local authority to build broadband infrastructure, requiring a referendum and imposing limitations on the business plan for community-owned networks that it does not do for privately owned networks.

The local newspaper has a Q&A to answer questions about the project.

Expected cost is in the neighborhood of $33 million and will be funded with revenue bonds if citizens approve the project. Opelika Power and Light already has a fiber ring that will be used in the project if they move forward (the project could start offering services as early as Fall 2012).

From a distance, it appears that details are not yet worked out (and why would they be -- until they have the authority conferred by a successful referendum, they would not complete any agreements), but the private company Knology will likely provide some of the services on the network built by Opelika.

Opelika Power and Light

The local editorial board endorsed the plan.

“Shall the City of Opelika, Alabama, be authorized to acquire, establish, purchase, construct, maintain, lease and operate a cable television system for the purpose of furnishing cable service to subscribers?”
That’s what the ballot will read in Opelika on Aug. 10.


And the answer: absolutely yes.

Unless, of course, you are a massive company like Charter that already offers services. If you are Charter, you might make absurd claims that cable is somehow more reliable than fiber. The Charter Government Relations Director apparently suffers from what we might call the make-ity-up disease. From the articles I read, I fear that no one corrected these inaccuracies.

Despite the support of the paper, a loud group has formed to oppose the network. They may be earnest and they may just be funded by Charter Cable, which wants to prevent any competition in the community. Of course, they may be both.

"This referendum represents everything going wrong with our nation today, and it is an opportunity for us to stop, here at home, something that is so fundamentally opposed to the principles this country was founded on."

I don't know what country he is talking about, but the Founders of my country did not intend for communities to be held hostage to the whims of private companies like Charter. The Founders of my country saw fit to include the power to establish post offices and postal roads in our Founding Document. Presumably, they could have just left it out, but they recognized that the private sector is not the appropriate solution to every last problem encountered by mankind.

The Opelika Observer, a local weekly, ran a piece from someone in the City who explained why the referendum was necessary:

For the last decade the City of Opelika officials (Mayor Gary Fuller and Mayor Barbara Patton before him) have held meetings with various Cable TV providers, urging them to come into the Opelika market and give competition to Charter Communications which right now has a “monopoly” on the Cable TV services offered to our community.

Unfortunately, the answer has been the same from the various cable companies over the years which the city has tried to lure into our community: “It's not worth our time, effort or capital expenditures to come into such a small market share.”

Stay tuned - let's hope that whatever the decision of the Opelika citizens, it is not swayed by the self-interested dissembling of a massive cable monopolist that must put shareholder interests before the needs of Opelika.