Denver-Voters here will decide this week whether WideOpenWest LLC will take on AT & T Broadband in its own backyard.
Denver and Boulder, Colo., hold primaries tomorrow (Aug. 8) that could pave the way for a $160 million WideOpenWest network capable of competing with AT & T Broadband for area video, high-speed Internet access and local telephone customers.
WideOpenWest is swimming upstream against voter apathy, though, as some have predicted a combined turnout of less than 100,000 in the two communities.
"The difference between this election and the last one is night and day," said Dean Smits, director of the Denver Office of Telecommunications, comparing this week's vote to last November's local election on renewing AT & T's franchise. "That election was intense because of the forced-access issue."
WideOpenWest has left nothing to chance, mounting a grass-roots campaign of direct mailings, literature drops, follow-up calls, picnic gatherings, town-hall meetings and yard signs.
"It's going to be the hard-core voters" that make it to the polls, said Dave Haverkate, WideOpenWest vice president for market development. "But if 100,000 votes are cast, it's our job to make sure we get 50,001."
WideOpenWest wants to offer broadband services to 470,000 Front Range consumers, anchored by Boulder and Denver.
"I think we're in good shape," Haverkate said. "I'm comfortable that we're in good position."
Denver, AT & T Broadband's corporate home, will be a prime battleground in the fight for control of the local telecommunications market.
Overtaking AT & T won't be easy. The MSO has completed its upgrade in Northwest Denver, offering high-speed AT & T@Home Internet service. It also launched 84 new video channels and 25 music channels.
"We're confident that we'll be the provider of choice," said AT & T spokeswoman Jeannine Hansen. "We have the superior products and have been in this business a while."
Some believe WideOpenWest will benefit from the long-running feud with Boulder's previous
operator, Tele-Communications Inc., which culminated with voters refusing to renew TCI's franchise.
"I haven't talked to anybody-except maybe AT & T-who isn't excited about cable competition in Boulder," said Richard Varnes, that city's telecom coordinator.
Ironically, Citizens for Better Cable in Boulder, which campaigned for years to bring in competition, does not favor WideOpenWest.
Founder Carter Johnson said the group feels franchises are being awarded based on what a company offers the city, rather than what it can do for subscribers.
Boulder has already awarded a permit to U S West Inc., which plans a network capable of delivering digital-subscriber-line video service over its existing telephone system.