Tiny Pennsylvania muni network may go private

Residents in many small cities, too tiny to attract major providers, have enjoyed cable TV service provided for years by their local municipalities. Over time, many of these munis have added Internet access. But now, some long-time muni cable providers are looking to private partners to help them with upgrades.Residents in many small cities, too tiny to attract major providers to their markets, have enjoyed cable TV service provided by their local municipalities for years. Over time, many of the municipalities, with the cable already in place, have added Internet access.

But now, as the networks age and require upgrades, some munis that have been long-time cable providers are looking to private partners to help them with upgrades that will move the community forward, keep pace with technology, and insure continued and expanded services.

With the cost of deployment behind them, infrastructure in place and only upgrades and maintenance required from the providers, partnership with these communities can make attractive business propositions. After all, the subscriber base–like the network itself–is already there and the provider has access to a lot of history on the performance and potential profitability of the market.

Aove andbeyond the attraction of not having to tackle the upgrades on their own, there can be other benefits for the community if the provider is willing to make a commitment to the market, keep the rates competitive, and expand its service offerings.

New Wilmington, Pennsylvania, is one of the cities weighing the future direction of its network. IThey city has advertised for bidders to purchase its network and has been talking with Comcast about taking it over. Comcast has submitted a $2 million bid to the city council of New Wilmington, Pa., to purchase the city’s muni cable and Internet network.

Comcast’s bid was the only one the city received in response to its call for bids and it evidently came with “conditions” that were not specified in the city’s solicitation. The city will review Comcast’s proposal on August 6. Some council members have questioned the city’s efforts to find other bidders. Others have questioned whether Comcast’s service will be as reliable as the city’s. The touchpoint for New Wilmington–and any city contemplating a similar sale–is negotiating a contract that insures its residents continuing quality of service and the promise of new and enhanced services.

New Wilmington, which serves about 1000 cable TV customers and 200 Internet subscribers, has been eyeing a possible sale for years and exploring the possibility with Comcast for more than six months. According to Council President Larry Wagner said that the town is so small “the time will come when we won’t be able to afford to do the things we need to do. We’re considering now if it would be to our advantage to sell while there is interest.”

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