As many among us are sadly aware, by the time a person pays the monthly bills for cable, telephone, and internet - groceries may only be a pipe dream. In today's world, being connected takes precedence over being adequately fed, clothed, or housed, and the companies that control those connectivity services greedily bleed customers for all they are worth.
I spent months last year trying to figure out a way to have it all (television, telephone, and internet) without having to throw in the towel and go back to work - and what I finally figured out was this: I couldn't afford it all. Access to each of those services was tightly controlled by just a few companies - and they all gleefully engaged in the illegal art of price-fixing. A sucker, like me, would never get a break from any of them. I resolved my personal dilemma by eventually choosing to cancel the cable.
At the time I was doing all of the teeth-gnashing over connectivity, I lamented on more than one occasion how nice it would be if the city would take on some of those services. With the city in charge, there would at least be some controls in place that would put a check on the price-gouging that was so common in the private sector.
That sentiment, like being well-fed in a stagnant economy, also appeared to be a pipe dream - that is, until yesterday. Saturday's edition of our local newspaper carried a front page story saying that the esteemed city government of West Plains, Missouri, is considering going into the broadband internet business and providing connections - for a fee, of course - to local homes and businesses. It seems some in the city government wanted to create a broadband system just for the city, but when it was discussed at a council meeting, businesses and local individuals demanded the right to participate as well. Now the issue of running it's own broadband utility is being "studied" by the city and the public is being polled on the matter.
Count me in! If the city is running it, I know where the council meetings are held - and when - and I know how to make my concerns heard. The city will have to respond to unhappy customers - whereas corporate providers solve their problems by putting irate customers on hold.
There is one big, hairy fly in the ointment, however. Established broadband providers are already extolling their friends in our state legislature to pass a law forbidding communities from providing broadband access with their public utilities package. A Republican (of course) state senator from Columbia introduced a bill to that effect during the last legislative session, but the internet providers failed to buy enough legislators to get it passed. This year they will undoubtedly try again - and their effort will be better financed.
But hope springs eternal. Just the fact that the city leaders of West Plains, Missouri, would even bring a subject like this up for discussion tells me that I live in a community that has some sense of what the future is all about. Once again I am feeling that I made a smart choice in selecting West Plains as my retirement community.