As a Coca-Cola salesman for 40 years, fighting in the trenches of the cola wars against Pepsi, RC Cola and other soft drinks, Rossville Mayor Johnny Baker is used to competition.
Mr. Baker said he's eager to bring competition to his city's cable TV market, even if it is coming from the sole provider of electricity to Rossville -- Chattanooga's EPB.
"All of my career has been in a competitive field, and I just believe there needs to be an alternative competition situation," Mr. Baker said. "I know EPB to be a very classy business that is available to work with the community. I'm not sure that Comcast (the main cable TV provider in Rossville) is always so accessible."
To compete head-on with Comcast, EPB plans to bring cable TV, telephone and high-speed Internet service to parts of North Georgia within the next year or two. EPB's new fiber-to-home service will offer up to 330 cable channels and standard Internet connection speeds at least three times faster than Comcast's standard Internet service, the utility says.
EPB will offer individual service rates for cable TV, Internet and telephones, or a bundled rate for all three.
Laurie Shipley, public affairs manager for Comcast in Chattanooga, said Comcast "continues to roll out new products and services" to meet customer demands in a competitive marketplace.
"I honestly believe we have the best products, service and overall value for our customers," she said.
Earlier this month, the Rossville City Council voted unanimously to approve a franchise agreement with EPB for cable TV and other telecom services. Rossville became the fifth area city to sign a telecommunications franchise agreement with EPB.
The city-owned utility is spending nearly $220 million to lay hundreds of miles of fiber-optic lines and to install satellite dishes, test equipment and customer service facilities throughout its service territory.
EPB spokesman Lacie Newton said the utility is still testing the new cable and telecom service with about 100 users and should begin offering the service throughout Chattanooga by spring.
"We are committed to having services available to customers in the cities of Chattanooga, East Ridge and Red Bank by July, 2010," Ms. Newton said. "From there we will move out to areas like Rossville."
Through the Tennessee Cable Telecommunications Association, Comcast and other cable TV companies sued EPB in 2008, claiming the utility was improperly using electric system revenues to subsidize its telecommunications startup. Last week, a state appellate court upheld a lower court ruling dismissing the lawsuit because it was filed in the wrong jurisdiction.
EPB franchises for cable TV
* Chattanooga, approved November. 2008
* East Ridge, approved January. 2009
* Ridgeside, approved April. 2009
* Red Bank, approved June. 2009
* Rossville, approved August. 2009
* Future franchises to be sought in Signal Mountain, Lookout Mountain, Tenn., Lookout Mountain, Ga., Soddy-Daisy, Collegedale, Lakesite
Source: Electric Power Board of Chattanooga
EPB will be the largest municipality to offer cable TV service in the nation. Dalton Utilities has offered TV, Internet and telephone service through its Optilink service since August, 2003, and now serves nearly half of all homes and businesses in Dalton.
Rossville City Councilman Nathan Bain said the city agreed to grant EPB a franchise similar to Comcast's. The cable providers pay the city a 5 percent franchise fee and must meet minimum service standards.
"It will be another alternative for our citizens and it will probably help keep the market competitive," Mr. Bain said. "We can't favor one system over another. I don't think we had much choice but to grant the franchise to EPB if they meet our standards like we set for Comcast."