Nicknamed the most wired
little town in Kentucky
, Glasgow (population 15,000) has become the poster child for municipally owned telecom services in the United States. (In the entire country, fewer than 60 publicly owned utilities offer DSL or cable modem services).
Located halfway between Louisville and Nashville, the city of Glasgow owns its own utility, the Glasgow Electric Plant Board (EPB). In the 1980's, when cable television was still in its infancy, many local communities installed their own cables. EPB, the entity that transmitted the electricity in town, installed Glasgow's cable. The 550 MHz mid-split communication system was completed in 1989, at the same time complaints about cable operator Charter Communications were reaching critical mass. So the city began work as a cable television provider. Being municipally owned, it was essentially a nonprofit corporation, and was able to provide services at a lower cost than Charter. (Funded publicly through bonds, the EPB's cable network was seen as a long-term investment in public infrastructure-- EPB's cable didn't make a profit until 1998). By 2000, EPB had achieved 75% market share, prompting Charter to give up: it sold its Glasgow network and customer base to the city. Glasgow citizens now enjoy one of the lowest rates for cable television in the United States-- $18/month for 70 channels (EPB allows competing services to use the network, so folks do have a choice).
In addition to offering phone service over the network, EPB also offers broadband internet (1 Mb/s) via cable modem for just $24/month. Of its 8000 cable subscribers, nearly 3000 have opted for its internet service.
The competition, South Central Rural Telephone, offers DSL (128 kb/s) for a higer price, and it's premiere offering, 1.5 Mb/s, costs more than three times the EPB rate.
This would only be of trivial interest except for one salient factor: Across the U.S., large scale telecom providers have been succesfully lobbying for state laws restricting municipalities from operating such services. Currently 11 states bar or restrict local governments from offering telecom services. Although the Federal Government declared in the 1996 Telecommunications Act that no state or local entity could prohibit "any entity" from providing "any" telecom service-- to date there are conflicting judicial decisions parsing the word "any." Phone and cable companies, the FCC, and a Federal appeals court have said that "any entity" does not apply to a publicly owned utility.
The network is also used to monitor the city's electrical grid, and provides the city with a LAN for city government and the school district, public access and distance learning channels, traffic signal coordination, and tie ins to MLS listings for realtors, and the local law library.
Utility superintendent William Ray estimates that since 1989, EPB's 120 miles of cable have kept $32 million in the local economy-- as resident's cable and internet charges go to the city, instead of a distant telecom provider. 350 other cities have visited Glasgow to inspect their broadband plant and learn about what Ray calls "infotricity."
Bergstein, Brian. "Local Broadband Bucks Telecom Trend." Associated Press. San Francisco Chronicle. 27 January 2003.
Gubbins, Ed. "Why You Can Get the Best Deal on High-Speed Internet Access in Glasgow, Kentucky." Telephony Online. 9 December 2002.<http://telephonyonline.com/microsites/magazinearticle.asp?magazinearticleid=161918&srid=10164> (27 January 2003)
City of Glasgow Web Site. <http://www.cityofglasgow.org/welcome.htm> (27 Janaury 2003)
The Glasgow Electric Plant Board. <http://www.glasgow-ky.com/epb/> (27 Janaury 2003)