Citizen uncovers EPB's porn problem

Citizen uncovers EPB's porn problem

March 16th, 2013 in Opinion Free Press

Sunshine Week, a national initiative to promote the importance of open government and freedom of information laws, comes to a close today. This week, the Free Press opinion page has highlighted a number of editorials that feature information culled from requests for government documents and featured discussions about the value of government transparency.

While the media owes it to citizens to utilize and defend open records and open meetings laws, ultimately it is you, the citizen, who is best situated to use freedom of information and sunshine laws to hold government accountable.

One local citizen activist who has used open records in an especially effective way is David Tulis, whose website Nooganomics. com takes a Chattanooga-centric look at free-market economics and Christianity. He wanted to know why the city of Chattanooga is in the porn business. Specifically, Tulis had discovered that since EPB, Chattanooga's taxpayer-owned electric company, launched its cable service, it's offerings have included a large variety of adult movies.

Through open records requests, Tulis discovered that in January, EPB made 225 adult movies available, including "Housewives: Swinger Sex Orgy Party," "All Day Sex Fest," and "Lesbian Teen Tryouts," according to a Feb. 25 Nooganomics.com post.

Tulis, who previously worked at the Times Free Press as a copy editor, also learned that EPB had been providing adult movies to its Chattanooga-area cable customer since September 2009 and sold as much as $10,500 worth of porn in a month.

You may be thinking, "Mr. Tulis, if you don't like porn, change the channel or don't order it." And that is the proper response under most circumstances. But in this case, every taxpayer and every EPB power customer is subsidizing porn whether they're an EPB cable customer or not.

That's because EPB's cable service is part of the Smart Grid, a fiber-optic network built with $552 million of federal and city tax money and bonds that will be paid back with money taken from EPB electric customers. Additionally, EPB's Fiber division, which includes the cable service, annually receives millions of dollars in loans and other subsidies from EPB electric revenues.

After Tulis received information exposing the number of pornographic titles EPB delivers to customers, EPB spokesman John Pless claimed that the city electric company was right to be in the porn business based on free speech grounds.

"As a government entity EPB is prohibited by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution from making content-based restrictions on speech, or censoring protected speech," Pless said. "EPB believes it is up to our customers to decide what legally protected content they choose to watch. EPB does offer parental controls with our Fi TV service that allows our customers to block whatever content they choose to block in their homes and businesses."

So according to Pless, EPB is required to offer porn. That's a new one.

In most cases, people who object to porn could simply refuse to subscribe to a cable or satellite television provider that offers pornographic movies. However, in the case of EPB, all taxpayers and every EPB electric customer has indirectly played a part in providing on-camera sex to the masses.

As a result, thousands of people who object to porn have their tax dollars -- or a portion of their electric bill payment -- spent to subsidize pornography against their will. Apparently, these people's rights don't matter to EPB.

Whether, like Tulis, you believe that pornography is an instrument of the devil, or, like many other Americans, you have a more tolerant view of porn, it's clear that subsidizing and enabling pornography is not the proper role of a taxpayer-owned government agency.