Tenn. Ops Back Overbuild Bills


Nashville, Tenn.— Cable operators are trying to salvage two bills in the Tennesee Legislature that would require public utilities that want to overbuild local cable systems to submit their plans to a referendum.

The measures are headed to a legislative study committee, and cable interests will use that study time to lobby lawmakers.

"We want to make voters aware how much money is involved" when a power utility branches out into telecommunications, said Stacey Burks, executive director of the Tennessee Cable Telecommunications Association.

Municipally owned power companies and rural electric cooperatives are important sources of energy in this state. Two years ago, state law was amended to allow those entities to enter the telecommunications business, if they met certain criteria. Voter referendums are recommended, but not required.

Since then, several communities have begun to consider publicly owned cable operations. Fayetteville Electric Service launched a telecommunications service in March. A second offering, from Covington Electric System, is currently under construction, according to consultant J. Allen Davis of United Telesystems Inc. in Savannah, Ga.

Another Tennessee overbuild, in Columbia, stalled after local residents collected enough signatures to force an election there. The vote will be held in November.