Tenn. Utility Might Add TV


Encouraged by the decision of the electric utility in Chattanooga to proceed with a cable TV project, the municipal utility in Cleveland, Tenn., is examining whether to follow suit.

Cleveland Utilities currently provides service to 29,000 electric customers, 29,000 water customers and 17,000 wastewater customers in Cleveland and Bradley counties in Southeast Tennessee. The municipal utility looked into the cable business about six years ago, said general manager Tom Wheeler, contemplating a hybrid fiber-coaxial build in addition to its current services.

After a feasibility study, the company board decided “we just weren’t ready to take that step,” Wheeler said. Technology was changing too fast and infrastructure costs seemed too high.

But now the utility is interested in a possible fiber-to-the-home build. Its larger neighbor inspired the change of mind: the Chattanooga Electric Power Board is in the midst of the municipal approval process to build cable into its current services.

The Tennessee Cable Telecommunications Association, which asserts the Power Board will need to use ratepayer money to fund the cable-TV portion of its utility business, has challenged that effort in court.

Wheeler said Cleveland Utilities is also interested in saving money through automated meter reading, which would be enabled through a fiber build. The utility’s board members have not discussed whether it would transmit video using Internet Protocol or conventional cable technology.

Cleveland Utilities has contracted with Uptown Services for a feasibility study, predicted to take three to four months. Uptown Services is affiliated with the American Public Power Association, the utility trade group.

If Cleveland Utilities moves forward, a video business would put the utility in head-to-head competition with Charter Communications, AT&T and the satellite-TV industry. Direct-broadcast satellite has a “good level” of penetration in the region, Wheeler said.