Several cities around Iowa are fielding loud consumer complaints about rate hikes announced by cable television providers. The group that publishes Consumer Reports Magazine has come out with an opinion that major cable operators are demanding rate increases that give customers fewer choices and simply fund lucrative cable-company mergers. One town that’s bucking the trend is Algona, where General Manager John Bilsten says residents voted in 1997 to have the city run a cable television franchise, just as it operates city water and electric utilities. He says it stemmed from dissatisfaction with mergers that took a local cable company to an out-of-town one that changed service and rates with no local involvement. He says the city has 60-percent of the cable-tv market in Algona, and not only provides service at a competitive rate but has seen the competitor’s rate decrease, a good thing for customers of either service. Bilsten says the city’s also looking at using its system to do remote meter-reading for the water and electric power, switching and other processes. Bilsten says the town of Algona did a complete “overbuild” laying new cable to each house, and can offer high-speed internet access to customers through that same system. The city has even bigger plans, preparing to offer municipal telephone service by spring. Bilsten says Algona’s not the only town to take over and operate some of the utility services its residents use. He says Iowa leads the nation in having municipally-owned electric and gas utilities, and of the towns where voters have approved taking over cable tv systems, about ten are doing it already.
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