Unreasonable pole attachment rates and demands may be among the single biggest threat to our business. As a small operator dependent on pole attachments to serve my customers, the electric cooperatives take advantage of their market power by forcing me to comply with their onerous pole attachment rules. Their demands are so outrageous that we won't deploy service to some households in our communities, even though we'd like to expand our service area. Worse yet, some coops contract out the management of their pole attachments to firms that charge even higher rates, and provide even less service.
Alabama Broadband, LLC is a small broadband service provider located in Bessemer, AL. We have a full time staff of 10 employees and limited contract fulfillment personnel from time to time. We provide analog cable to about 2,900 customers as well as offer digital cable, high speed Internet and VoIP phone service in more than 20 communities in rural parts of Northern Alabama. The company was founded in January 2007.
In addition to pole attachment rates, the amount of money that our local broadcasters are demanding for retransmission consent is alarming. If we have to pay these fees, we'd be forced to increase our monthly basic cable rates by $2 or more. As a new company in the video business, we have to rethink every decision to even offer a video product.
With regard to how our programming is packaged, I wish our customers could have more choice. The large programmers force many companies like ours to offer a basic tier with lots of unwanted channels. Most customers prefer quality to quantity, and may wish to purchase smaller tiers of programming. If I had more flexibility, I could provide my customers a service that provides better value. For example, I'd offer a more limited basic service that includes general interest programming suitable for family viewing, and then provide tiers of specialty networks, such as national and regional sports networks, and other special interest programming.
It's more difficult for small operators to compete in the video business. Large operators have greater negotiating power with vendors, and they benefit from economies of scale. Smaller operators do enjoy some advantage in that they are local companies, and consumers seem to prefer well run businesses in their communities with local folks they can communicate with directly. Many small operators are very responsive to their customers' local needs, and offer sound customer service. However, unless current federal rules and regulations that put small operators at a disadvantage when negotiating carriage deals and pole attachments are changed, there may be a time when the only choice for consumers will be the large MSOs or Satellite.
~Tom Early, Alabama Broadband, LLC
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