published Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

Chattanooga: Lawsuit aids to halt EPB cable venture


by Monica Mercer
Audio clip

John Cavett

A class action lawsuit filed Tuesday against the city of Chattanooga, EPB and EPB Telecom says the power company has been installing infrastructure for its new cable business without acquiring proper permission from Hamilton County residents.

The civil action by residents is the first from EPB electric ratepayers to challenge how the city-owned utility is assessing most of the costs of the $219 million fiber-to-home initiative.

Every EPB customer is potentially affected by the lawsuit, attorney John Cavett said, and possibly could be entitled to compensation from EPB for improper use of their land.

Chattanooga and EPB already own easements — essentially rights-of-way to use other people’s property for a specific purpose — throughout the county and surrounding areas in order to transmit electricity to their customers.

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The lawsuit claims, however, that the city, EPB and its offshoot cable company, EPB Telecom, have begun using those easements to install cable. Such actions are illegal, Mr. Cavett asserted, citing case law from other jurisdictions.

A 2005 Tennessee Court of Appeals decision, for example, noted that “an easement’s use may change over time to accommodate technological development, but such changes must fall within the purposes for which the easement was created.”

In a statement e-mailed to the Times Free Press, EPB Senior Vice President of Finance Greg Eaves defended EPB’s actions and said that the placement of “a fiber optic Smart Grid” is meant only to “modernize” the company’s electric system.

“By adding some additional electronics, we can provide superior high speed Internet, video and phone to customers who choose to purchase them,” Mr. Eaves said.

The lawsuit, filed in Hamilton County Circuit Court, points to a 10-mile strip of land along Browntown Road in Soddy-Daisy, where EPB’s cables already run through the property of at least 75 owners who’ve agreed only to electricity easements.

Lead plaintiff David Mathews, of 6044 Browntown Road, lives along “one of many cable lines in Hamilton and adjacent counties,” the lawsuit states.

The issue of whether electric ratepayers are illegally paying for EPB’s cable venture has been argued for two years in courts in Chattanooga and Nashville.

The Tennessee Cable TV Association sued EPB in Davidson County Chancery Court in 2007, claiming EPB was illegally developing its EPB Telecom plan using electricity revenues. The lawsuit was judged to have been filed in the wrong jurisdiction, but the cable industry has appealed to the Tennessee Court of Appeals.

Last year, Comcast Corp., which operates the primary cable TV service in Chattanooga, filed a lawsuit in Hamilton County, claiming that EPB’s capital expenses from launching the telecommunications venture should not be funded by electric revenues.

A Hamilton County judge threw out the lawsuit last July.

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rolando said...

Anything to stop anyone giving the people a choice.

The answer to anything is to sue the competition off the face of the earth. And think of the money to be made off them!

Guess who will pay for the lawsuit and any extortion money...oops, damages...imposed on EPB by the courts? Yep, me and thee.

This is [or has become] the American Way.

January 28, 2009 at 5:44 a.m.
aae1049 said...

EPB should bypass the property of the people that will not let the uitlity use their own easement. EPB feel free to come through your utility easement on our property and bring us options.

January 28, 2009 at 9:02 a.m.
jehawbaker said...

EPB released a statement in response to the lawsuit: http://chattarati.com/2009/01/27/epb-responds-to-lawsuit/

January 28, 2009 at 9:27 a.m.
cpc said...

The ownership of personal property is important to me. Prior to any person or utility company using my property, I would expect to be notified and if necessary easement permission obtained.

January 28, 2009 at 11:04 a.m.
rolando said...

Good website, jehawbaker. It is bookmarked. Thanx.

January 28, 2009 at 11:28 a.m.
thatguy said...

Comcast thinks it is ok for them to venture into the phone business but wants to limit the EBP from entering into the cable business -- go figure-- EBP should however enter through the correct avenues not by loopholes or misleading the public.

January 28, 2009 at 12:12 p.m.
rolando said...

As I understand it, the primary intended use of EPB's new SmartGrid is to monitor power usage and have the ability to drop the voltage to specific user's heavy applicances during very high use periods -- heat pumps, HVAC units, water heaters, electric ranges, etc. Targeted brown-outs, IOW. This system is in use in parts of Virginia and Maryland even as we speak.

So. What was EPB's original intent? EPB says it was for monitoring purposes and other uses became rather obvious as time went on.

January 28, 2009 at 4:07 p.m.
thatguy said...

When I lived in the D.C. Metro Virginia did monitor thier system but cable tv or telephone was not part of the system. Maybe it could have been but??? EBP should install the system and work out the bugs and then add cable tv

January 28, 2009 at 4:45 p.m.
WadeGasior said...

I do not understand why these individuals would want to try to stand in the way of an infrastructure project that would bring business opportunities and economic growth to Chattanooga... There is a very close relationship between broadband and job growth. (http://www.srri.net/Home/EconEffectsBB_PressRelease-FactSheet.pdf)

January 29, 2009 at 11:29 a.m.
volstate said...

I wish you folks in Chattanooga would get a clue. EPB is using you to finance a 219 million dollar expansion. You are going to pay for it whether you use it or not with increased power rates and taxes. There is no way they can be competitive without subsidizing the effort.

Comcast, AT&T and others are already in your market offering the same services at very attractive rates; making EPB's efforts to offer a self-sustaining business model impossible. Their assertions to the contrary are based on fantasy.

February 8, 2009 at 8:28 a.m.
md6597 said...

The problem with your statement is that comcast & AT&T are not competition for each other and they know it. Comcast phone service is spotty at best. AT&T clearly excels in every way when it comes to phone service.

Comcast has the Edge on Cable and the Internet. AT&T can only offer DSL which while less expensive is slower, and more prone to being slow durring heavy use times. DSL also usually comes with a very limiting Fair Use Policy. AT&T through Dishnetwork does offer cable tv, however satillite does not have true ON DEMAND programming.

EPB has what neither Comcast or AT&T has an ALL FIBER network, EPB will be able to offer internet speeds that blow your mind, and ON Demand options that can have you lost for days. It will be faster, quicker, smarter, and tecnologically superior to anything and everything AT&T or Comcast can offer.

I might not be able to afford it, but I want that choice. Comcast & AT&T both know they are the best at what they do and no one else can compete, I want a third option.

To EPB: I'll pay you to run your lines to my house. Dont worry about a waiver or asking premission just show up and tell me how much I owe.

February 11, 2009 at 8:47 p.m.
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