EPB's expansion from electricity to television is sparking questions over why the city-owned utility is marketing naughty movies.
At issue is EPB's new video lineup that includes the Playboy channel and access to a number of adult movies as part of its premium pay-for-view offerings.
Critics object to a government-owned utility putting out what they say is pornography. But EPB says it has a free speech mandate not to censure a diverse programming menu, and it has gone to great lengths to control how consumers access adult entertainment on its new fiber-optic TV lineup.
David Fowler, a former Republican state senator who now heads the Family Action Council of Tennessee, contends there is no excuse for a government identity peddling porn.
"The government simply should not offer pornography stations on cable networks they own," he said. "The government should not be more interested in making money than they are in disseminating material that has destroyed so many lives and families."
EPB Vice President Katie Espeseth said the utility is responding to community standards and desire for choices. Comcast and the other municipal cable providers in Tennessee offer a variety of adult channels as premium services. AT&T, which plans to expand its U-verse television service to Chattanooga in the next year, also offers adult-oriented TV channels.
"Our decision to offer Playboy was really tied to our overall philosophy of offering more options and choices for customers," Ms. Espeseth said.
Aaron Webb, vice president of legal services, said EPB has strict limits on underage people accessing adult movies, and under such circumstances courts have held that government identities can't arbitrarily edit their entertainment offerings.
"The case law is pretty clear that any state authority who is involved in providing cable TV service shall not edit any content that is provided over the network," he said.
EPB officials said they have had no objections raised to their channel lineup, other than complaints about the initial lack of the NFL Network on their video service. That network recently was added.
In preparing EPB's television lineup for its "Fi-TV" service, EPB officials said they looked at what was available in the market and what customers said they wanted to see on TV.
"We do want to give people the freedom to view what they want in their own homes, but behind that we think we've given people some pretty unusual tools to help them manage what they can see and can't see," Ms. Espeseth said.
Parental controls and choices are readily available, and all of the adult programming is subscription-based, requiring the customer to request and pay for the service. EPB also has an adult block that will keep off the television anything that is rated NC-17 or above, including some MTV, VH-1 and other mainstream channels.