Gigi Sohn Hopes Kentucky Town Keeps Its Cable Company
By Ted Hearn, Editor of Policyband
Washington, D.C., Feb. 10, 2024 – A leading advocate for municipal broadband networks is hoping a Kentucky town will think twice before selling its cable TV and Internet company after nearly four decades of public ownership.
The Bardstown City Council in Kentucky is reviewing three bids for its communications company Bardstown Connect, which the city acquired from a private owner in 1985.
Gigi Sohn, Executive Director of the American Association for Public Broadband (AAPB), said she hopes that local residents who oppose the sale raise their voices to make their position known.
“I understand that this deal is not a done deal and I'm happy about that. I do hope that Bardstown Connect and the citizens that want to keep it will make their voices heard,” Sohn said. “When the community comes together and pushes back, that changes everything.”
Sohn spoke about the potential sale of Bardstown Connect (formerly Bardstown Cable TV & Internet) as a call-in guest yesterday on the “Bradford & Brooks” radio show on AM-FM station WBRT in Bardstown.
Bardstown’s City Council received bids in January from Comcast Corp., Charter Communications and DUO Broadband. Details about the bids have not been released, though some are expected to emerge at the Council’s Feb. 13 public meeting.
Bardstown Connect has about 11,600 broadband and 5,000 cable TV subscribers. A rural community located in Nelson County near Louisville, Bardstown has about 14,000 residents.
City officials say they intend to use the proceeds of the sale to reduce the town’s debt and upgrade city-owned utilities.
“I am not going to judge the reasons for why the city council and the mayor want to sell this network, but they are elected officials and if they know that it's going to displease voters if they sell this, I would hope they would think twice,” Sohn said.
Some in Bardstown are concerned that the sale will lead to higher rates for cable TV and Internet service.
In the radio interview, Sohn said there was no doubt in her mind that a locally owned and operated broadband network is more responsive to the needs of the community than a private entity.
Sohn became AAPB’s first executive director last May. She was nominated by President Biden to serve on the Federal Communications Commission in October, 2021. She withdrew her nomination in March, 2023 after it became clear that she might not have the votes to be confirmed.
AAPB describes itself as an organization that works “collaboratively with communities, policy makers, service providers, and other industry groups to advance high-speed broadband deployments in the United States.”
Sohn said that in the past year alone, about 50 new community-owned broadband networks started to operate and dozens more are in the works. She added that the majority of the networks will provide only broadband service because cable TV programming costs are prohibitively expensive.
The success of city-owned broadband is not assured. Notable failures include Bristol, Va., where the broadband network was sold at a 50% loss in 2018, and Provo, Utah, where the financially troubled network that cost $39 million to build was sold to Google for $1 in 2013. Traverse City, Mich., has recently had difficulty attracting a sufficient number of broadband subscribers to cover interest payments.