Poplar Bluff residents upset about internet provider change

POPLAR BLUFF, MO (KFVS) - An Internet access debate got heated Tuesday night at a Poplar Bluff city council meeting.

The city discontinued open access Internet service in May, something they originally voted on in 2010 to terminate.  Now, citizens say they aren't happy about the change.

More than 50 people went to the Poplar Bluff city council meeting wanting to talk about an issue that wasn't even on the agenda.

Customers like Barbara Rexroat aren't happy about the new closed access Internet service, and want to go back to open access and her old provider.

"Here I am trying to access it at my home, I look down to make sure everything is hooked up and my pages won't open up," said Rexroat. "I went to McDonanlds to use WiFi."

She says a small group has collected more than 700 signatures for a petition of a ballot initiative so the issue can go to a vote of the people in Poplar Bluff.

Brian Becker, the CEO of one of the providers Semo.net, says the change took away a large chunk of his customers, and he wonders how this will affect the market.

"Taking away that choice where at one point that had 4 different providers to choose from, now they just have one, that will affect price," said Becker.

Poplar Bluff City Attorney Wallace Duncan says the city had open access for a number of years, and Duncan says it cost the city extra money.

"What they are asking to city to do, the city council feels would be detrimental to the citizens of the city," said Duncan.

Duncan said the issue to terminate open access was on the agenda several times in 2010 before it was voted on.

He says people are welcome to speak at the city council meeting during the citizens input portion of the meeting, much like Tuesday night.

He also said they are in a lawsuit with Semo.net, and are therefore restricted in how much they can say.

After citizens spoke to the council members during the citizen input portion of the meeting Tuesday night, the members voted to close that section, and then read a previously prepared statement.

When Becker wanted to respond to the statement, the council members said no.

That caused a large group of the citizens to walk out of the meeting in anger.

Rexroat and other community members say they are sticking to their motto, and hope for change.

"Let the people decide," said Rexroat.