Opinion: City Council should consider sale’s impact on cable TV, internet subscribers

Nelson County Gazette

Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2024 — The Bardstown City Council meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. this evening includes an executive session to discuss “deliberations on the future acquisition or sale of real property by a public agency” behind closed doors.

While the notice does not state the nature of the business, one can assume it may be is related to the city’s desire to sell its cable TV and internet business, Bardstown Connect.

The city has already received and opened bids from three companies. Those bids and details have not yet been shared with the public.

Other than Mayor Dick Heaton’s statement at the Nov. 28, 2023, council meeting about the need to sell the city’s cable TV and internet business, we know precious little about exactly how the sale might impact customers.

But judging by a look at the three companies that have bids to purchase the city’s system, customers can anticipate the loss of two things: reasonable rates and excellent customer service — both of which are controlled locally and not at some out-of-state headquarters.

And of course, the City of Bardstown has never been in business to make big profits from Barsdtown Connect. That will change under new ownership, which will generally will mean higher costs to users.

When you consider how important broadband internet is to economic development, I have to wonder if the sale of the city’s internet infrastructure is a good move.

Twenty-plus years ago, when I first became a city internet subscriber, the internet was a nice value-added service the city offered. Today, however, the internet is just as important a utility as water, sewer and electric.

My daughter is a creative manager for a Washington, D.C.-based public relations firm. She has fiber broadband provided by a national company so she can work remotely from her home in the Botland area.

Twice in a matter of months, construction crews in her area sliced through her fiber cable; the outage left her without internet, forcing her to work for more than a week each time at the public library. Both outages were lengthy; she had trouble getting through to an actual person.

In comparison, in two separate instances in recent years, lightning-induced power surges disabled my cable internet modem. Both incidents took place on Sundays.

As someone who lives and dies by the internet, I frantically called support where I found a human on the end of the line. In short order, they checked my modem remotely and told me they would replace it if I brought it to City Hall, which I did.

Is this level of customer service something current Bardstown Connect users can expect from the bidding companies? Call me a pessimist, but I’m not very confident we will see the same level of service.

As the seller, the city has the right to select one of the three — or none of the three — companies who answer the request for proposals.

The Mayor cites the sale of Bardstown Connect as a way to help pay for upgrades to other city utilities. And he correctly notes that upgrading the system is expensive, and upgrades will continue to be necessary moving into the future.

Cities were formed to provide services to residents that weren’t normally provided by state and county governments — sidewalks, streetlights, water, sewer, etc. In the 21st Century, that list includes the internet.

The City of Bardstown is in a unique position as owner and operator of its own cable TV and broadband system. I’m not suggesting that it wouldn’t be a challenge to keep it competitive into the future; but I will say that rates could be adjusted as necessary to make upgrades affordable will retaining the many benefits of local control.

Before the City Council votes to sell Bardstown Connect, I hope they will consider the impact of the loss of local control over such an important part of the city and county’s infrastructure.

TOMORROW ON WBRT. Aaron Boles, the city administrator and Chief Financial Officer, will be a studio guest Wednesday morning at 11 a.m. on WBRT’s “Bradford & Brooks” radio show to discuss the potential sale of Bardstown Connect.

Listen in live at 11 a.m. to WBRT AM 1320, FM 97.1 or the livestream at www.WBRTCountry.com. We’ll also have live video from the WBRT studio on Bardstown Cable TV Channel 19, BRTV.


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