City of Poplar Bluff ends open internet access

By Tyler Profilet

POPLAR BLUFF, MO (KFVS) - People in Poplar Bluff may soon have fewer choices for their internet services providers.

The city council voted to end the city's open access policy, which could put smaller providers out of business.

The dispute is very complicated, but it comes down to a simple point: the city owns all the cable internet service in the city, and they don't want to share with other local internet service providers.

Local service providers say it creates an unfair market place and competing against the city for Internet service will be very difficult.

"It feels like you're trying to fight city hall, and it's a very difficult position to be in," said Semo.net President Brian Becker.

Becker says the city was very progressive back in 2002 when it voted for an open access cable internet policy in which the city would provide the cable, and local providers would pay the city for the right to use the cable in their networks.

Now, the city is shutting out local internet service providers, and Becker thinks he knows why.

"I think they could make more money if there was no competition on the network," he said.

Becker says he's been a thorn in the side of city cable because of his prices.

But he says under the current structure, Semo.net can't survive.

The city increased rates for ISPs in January, and another 43 percent increase is scheduled in 90 days.

Now Becker and other ISPs have to start their own networks, or pay up to city hall.

"For the current customers, it means they are going to have to trust us that we're going to take care of business and we're going to get them where they need to be on the Internet for a long time coming," he said.

Becker says he has been paying the city more than $200,000 a year for service and hopes to use that money to create his own network, however unfair the marketplace may be.

"They have forgotten who helped them get to where they are today and have decided to use the power of city hall to drive as much profit towards themselves as possible," he said.

Heartland News called both the city and the cable company and no one could talk about this issue.

Becker encourages anyone who wants to see city council reverse its vote to come speak at the next city council meeting, which is Monday, August 2 at 7 p.m. at city hall.

He says if the council doesn't change its vote, he is considering litigation against the city.

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