Some residents voice opposition to Opelika smart-grid plan

Optic fiber

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Although I agree with Jack Mazzola in theory, he does not understand the reasoning behind the city’s actions and he is over dramatizing the impact of the utility’s proposed network. Mr. Mazzola has it correct that selling communications services is best left to private enterprise. The government should not be in the business of providing telecommunications services.  It could provide the last-mile infrastructure to service providers that want to offer voice, video, and data services, because building such a network for a single service provider is cost prohibitive.  The city should facilitate competition for private enterprise by providing a utility that a single provider could not afford to build on their own.

I am sure that the city would collect franchise fees from multiple service providers other than Charter, but the economics are not viable for Charter and other providers to build multiple networks.  Once again I return to the fact that building a broadband network costs a bit over $1,200 per home passed in small communities.  Divide the market in two and the cost doubles which extends the time for a positive rate of return to over 3 years.  Too much for public companies.

The city is wise in its intention to amortize the cost of building a fiber network across different uses.  The fiber has the capacity to support multiple services and applications.  By apportioning the cost based on bandwidth used by a service or application, electricity customers will pay much less than if they had to foot the bill for the whole fiber network;  negating the “rate hike” Mr. Mazzola mentions.  Higher value and bandwidth services would pay their fair share which would increase the revenue to pay for this endeavor.

Mr. Mazzola’s arguments of over regulation and loss of freedoms/privacy are a little overstated.  There is the potential for citizens to apply pressure on the utility to restrict certain types of “information” that Mr. Mazzola refers.  Providing an open-access infrastructure is the way around that problem because the city is not involved in the actual content of the services.

I admire Mr. Mazzola’s principles in an age where so many of the principles of which this nation was founded are being discarded, but he needs to be a bit more constructive in his thought.  If he would like to see free enterprise flourish and receive innovative services then he should support the city building an open-access fiber infrastructure to be used for the smart grid and competitive communication services.  These goals can be achieved with the privacy and financial transparency his group is questioning.  Opelika citizens head to the polls in about a week.  If the ballot measure is approved, then citizens like Mr. Mazzola should remain involved and shape the network to achieve their goals of free enterprise and free flowing information.

By Donathan Prater | Staff Writer

While many expect Opelika voters to give the city the nod when they head to the polls on Aug. 10 for a referendum that would create a city-owned telecommunications company, that feeling isn’t unanimous.

Some opponents plan to attend the public hearing in the Opelika City Council chambers Tuesday to voice their concerns.

One is Jack Mazzola, a member of Concerned Citizens of Opelika.

A “yes” vote on Aug. 10 will allow the city to go forward with plans to construct a fiber optic system that would enable it to deploy smart grid services through Opelika Light and Power, as well as offer telecommunications services.

Mazzola, 30, said there is much more at stake than a vote for or against “cable TV.”

Mazzola said there are many unanswered questions about the finances, privacy and political motivations concerning the smart grid.

“I know many Opelika citizens are alarmed at the proposed violation of private enterprise, erosion of personal privacy, likely rate hikes in our energy bills and the eventual loss of freedoms that may result from excessive government regulation,” said Mazzola, a two-year resident of Opelika. “I can’t really imagine the mayor and city council would expect us to just accept such a monumental change to our lives by just voting for cable TV.”

Some opponents have created a blog at that serves as an informal focal point for the opposition.

Mazzola said the situation calls for a “return to principle.”

“It is my understanding that no other cable provider has been allowed by the city to come into Opelika and provide competition,” he said. “However far that is true, I know many citizens are curious to know the extent that any other providers besides Charter have been sought out to install services in Opelika.

“Whatever the answer to that question, it should never be the task of any level of government to provide information services to anyone. I hold to a core principle that liberty and prosperity are best perpetuated by limited government. Private enterprise should supply the needs of the citizens and government should ensure justice — not cable TV.”

Mazzola said the intention of Concerned Citizens of Opelika is not to “throw stones” at the local government but to “recognize the sacred principles at stake in this proposal.”

“I oppose the city on this issue from principle for the same reason I oppose the government health care public option and every other statist policy being thrown at us. Our country is on the wrong track, not because government doesn’t do enough, but because it does too much,” Mazzola said. “This referendum represents everything going wrong with our nation today, and it is an opportunity for us to stop, here at home, something that is so fundamentally opposed to the principles this country was founded on.”

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About Mark Milliman

Mark Milliman is a Principal Consultant at Inphotonics Research driving the adoption and assisting local governments to plan, build, operate, and lease access open-access municipal broadband networks. Additionally, he works with entrepreneurs and venture capitalists to increase the value of their intellectual capital through the creation of strategic product plans and execution of innovative marketing strategies. With more than 22 years of experience in the telecommunications industry that began at AT&T Bell Laboratories, Mark has built fiber, cable, and wireless networks around the world to deliver voice, video, and data services. His thorough knowledge of all aspects of service delivery from content creation to the design, operation, and management of the network is utilized by carriers and equipment manufacturers. Mark conceived and developed one of the industry's first multi-service provisioning platform and is multiple patent holder. He is active in the IEEE as a senior member. Mark received his B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Iowa State University and M.S. in Electrical Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University.
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