Fibrant has decided to offer premium adult content to subscribers that choose to receive it. Salisbury's approach and response offer a window into the benefits and responsibilities inherent in building a triple-play network that offers services directly.
As a gesture to those who are publicly opposed to such content being available, the channel listings do not show up to the subscriber by default -- which is to say that you cannot even see the scrambled channel unless you take action to tell Fibrant you would like the option of purchasing adult content.
The reason for offering the adult content? Much like the reason most community networks get involved in television at all: it helps pay the bills. The margins on premium content are high and competitors also offer these options locally.
However, a number of people are morally opposed to such content -- this has been a particularly sensitive issue in both Utah and the South more generally. Opponents to community networks generally take this opportunity to rally some opposition to the network in general.
Years ago, we wrote about a similar situation in Burlington, Vermont, because they carried the Al-Jazeera English international news channel.
The lesson we draw from these situations is that running a community fiber network is not all about creating economic development and educational opportunities. There are many issues that may be confronted, and some are messy First Amendment discussions. When a community takes responsibility for its future, it really has to take responsibility for its decisions.
When Comcast or Time Warner Cable chooses the channels, these problems may lurk under the radar because no one expects TWC or Comcast to take community needs or desires into account when they choose their channel lineup.
But when the network is owned locally and accountable to the public, the public has a voice in the decisions governing the network. Controversy on adult content on television may well subside over time, as few are actually proposing to censor the same content delivered via words, photos, and video over the Internet. The Salisbury Post editorialized a similar point:
While there’s no perfect choice here, there is this reality: Even if...