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Tennessee municipal broadband not living up to promises

By   /   November 13, 2015  /   No Comments

The municipal broadband service in Clarksville, Tenn., has had four major outages over the past two weeks, inspiring a public uproar and raising questions about the grandiose claims made by city officials when they approved the network almost a decade ago.

Clarksville Department of Electricity officials oversee the service, known as CDE Lightband, which was supposed to provide local business with faster and more reliable web connections than private-sector providers AT&T and Charter, which serve the city of 135,00 that straddles the Tennessee-Kentucky state line.

Voters gave CDE Lightband the go-ahead in a referendum nine years ago and this is not the first time problems have popped up. CDE Lightband also experience major outages last year, including one April Fool’s Day.

This time around, business owners, students and others who rely on the service took to the provider’s Facebook page to register their displeasure.

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Kate Matties, a Clarksville mortgage broker, said she and her staff lost $4,000 in business because of this month’s outages.

“It’s a very time-sensitive business I run, especially when it comes to purchasing because contracts to buy houses have a very specific time before they expire,” she said.

Matties said about 95 percent of her job involves uploading documents to investors’ websites and uploading requests for appraisals.

“CDE was supposed to be faster for less money. When it works it is faster. The problem is that when it doesn’t work, everything in my life comes to a standstill,” Matties said. “It’s frustrating and disappointing. It’s not like they’re reimbursing me for everything I’ve lost. I still have to pay for this service even when it doesn’t work.”

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Jennifer Szarek, a college student, said outages are so frequent she and her friends place wagers as to when they’ll happen.

“We talk about CDE a lot,” Szarek said.

“‘Do you think it’s going to go out at 8:20 tonight? I’ll bet you it goes out earlier,’ we tell ourselves. It’s a joke between us because we have online classes we have to do. We don’t start our classes at 8 p.m. at night. It never fails. The Internet goes out within 20 minutes.’”

Szarek said she was on Charter, but switched to CDE Lightband this past summer because it’s less expensive.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

WORTH IT?: Customers took to social media to complain about repeated service interruptions in Clarksville’s municipal broadband.

Travis Lander said he can’t get any work done lately with Lightband, but sticks with the service for convenience sake. “The simple fact is it goes with my electrical bill and everything is bundled together,” Lander said, adding he hasn’t had any problems with CDE until now. “It’s going to get to a point where there have to be repercussions. I’m tired of paying for something not working.”

CDE officials did not return repeated requests for comment this week, but they’ve blamed unnamed “third-party providers” and broken fiber lines for past outages.

State Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, and State Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Clarksville, have pushed unsuccessfully to expand CDE Lightband outside Clarksville to service a nearby industrial park.

Tennessee law currently forbids municipal broadband systems from expanding beyond their municipal boundaries.

Green and Pitts did not return repeated requests for comment this week.

CDE Lightband has 15,000 customers, with packages ranging from $44.95 to $249.95 per month, according to CDE’s website.

Contact Christopher Butler at chris@tennesseewatchdog.org 

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Chris formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.