Psst, Wanna Buy a Muni Cable Net?

5/04/2003 8:00 PM Eastern

For sale: one unfinished municipal cable system, in whole or in part.

Trion, Ga., has determined that its attempt to become a competitive broadband provider has done little but drain the city coffers.

Rather than complete the buildout, the city began soliciting bids last week in order to sell off its hardware piece by piece.

The city of approximately 2,000 — located about 75 miles from Atlanta — got into the telecommunications fray about two years ago, under the direction of a former mayor.

Town officials believed they could provide a low-cost cable and Internet alternative to their own citizens, as well as expand the infrastructure into neighboring towns, such as Summerville and parts of Chattooga County. The city received franchises for those areas, to compete with Charter Communications Inc.

But as of the beginning of this year, the system is still only partially built, with 25 miles of plant deployed, according to David Ball of Xponent Technologies Inc., the city's broadband consultant.

Had big plans

"Their goal was to be a mini AT&T [Broadband]," Ball said. He said he joined the project halfway through, and redesigned the plant when he got there. The city was in the process of building a state-of-the-art, hybrid fiber-coax 870-Megahertz plant with 300-channel capacity.

Down the road, city fathers hoped for interactive services and perhaps telephony.

Instead, all the city has to date is a drained budget surplus and a plant in which only the city hall, home of the headend, is activated. Fifty-five percent of the plant is completed, along with 25% of the splicing.

No buyers yet

New Mayor Lanny Thomas and city aldermen determined earlier this year "that they forked out a lot of money they really didn't have — it pretty much broke the town," Ball said.

Officials tried to get someone to come in and take the plant off municipal hands, but were unsuccessful. The final attempt to recoup some of their expenses is to sell the parts off piecemeal, he said.

Some components, all from Scientific-Atlanta Inc., are in their original cartons, Ball said. Sale items include a complete headend, field electronics and enough active and passive electronics to supply 40 miles of plant, he said. Fiber and coaxial cable, still on the reel, are also up for bids.

Trion officials will open the bids on May 19.

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