View Full Version : Martin to explore building cable, Internet system

07-28-2006, 01:25 AM
STUART Imagine a Martin County where the government owns all the wires that bring cable and Internet service to residents, and customers write a check to the county instead of a private company such as Adelphia Communications or Comcast Corp.

County commissioners were so angry this week over negotiations with a new cable service provider for the region that they decided to look at kicking the cable company out of town and doing it themselves.

"We're beholden to them," Commissioner Michael DiTerlizzi said of Comcast, which is trying to take over bankrupt Adelphia and the franchise Adelphia has to provide cable and broadband Internet service in Martin County. "Why don't we just eminent domain them and take over their damn system?"

Commissioners were reacting to a report from Chief Information Officer Kevin Kryzda that the county has paid Adelphia $125,000 annually for the right to use several strands of fiber optic cable in the network the company built and owns all over the county. The county uses the cable strands it rents as a network for all its phone, computer and communications systems.

But Kryzda said that if a federal bankruptcy court approves Comcast's takeover, Martin County would have to negotiate a new lease with the new company. Kryzda said Comcast officials have told the county they would want the county to pay a "fair market" rate for renting those lines, which Kryzda estimated would be $3 million to $5 million per year.

"We have almost zip leverage right now," County Administrator Duncan Ballantyne said.

Two spokesmen for Comcast, which provides cable service to most of South Florida, did not return calls seeking comment on Thursday.

Commissioners on Wednesday approved hiring a consultant to come up with a backup plan so the county is not stuck having to pay the increased rent. They suggested that the plan should figure out how much it would cost the county to build its own network of cable and Internet wires and either provide the service itself or make a private company pay it for the right to use the lines.

"It can very easily happen," DiTerlizzi said. "Governments all over the country can run their own cable utility. We can control what happens and we don't have to rely on Adelphia, which has had its share of problems, or Comcast, which who knows what will happen with them."

Commissioner Doug Smith suggested bringing in officials from LaGrange, Ga., a city of about 27,000 people 65 miles southwest of Atlanta, to talk about how that city installed its own cable and Internet lines.

Alan Slaughenhaupt, the information technology director in LaGrange, said the city built its own network in the late 1990s because it was unhappy with the small local cable provider. The city now leases the cable television rights on its lines to St. Louis-based Charter Communications, but the city utilities department provides all the broadband Internet access to businesses.

The city provided its own broadband access free to residents for three years, but Charter now provides that service for a basic rate of $19.95 per month, he said.

"We kick-started folks that had never done anything with the Internet before to start using e-mail and other things," Slaughenhaupt said. As part of their agreement, Charter Communications is paying the city all of what it cost it to install the lines.

Kryzda said it cost Adelphia $300,000 just to install the fiber optic lines the county leases and he did not know how much it would cost to run an entirely new network for all residents. Kryzda also said he did not know whether a government could use eminent domain to take a network built by a private cable company.

Reigster at SatelliteGuys