By John Kanelis
Someone had to be first so, therefore, Greenville’s public utility system is proud to claim the title as Texas’ first such utility to build its own Internet and cable TV network.
It all started in 1999, said Alicia Price, general manager of the Greenville Electric Utility System. Greenville didn’t provide high-speed Internet service for its residents. The city approached Time Warner and Southwestern Bell. The companies weren’t interested in providing the service to Greenville, according to Jimmy Dickey, marketing manager for GEUS. “They said they couldn’t deliver the service because we were too small,” Dickey said.
What did the city do? It put the issue to a vote of its residents in 2000. The issue passed overwhelmingly. Dickey said the city then began laying fiber-optic cable in “every alley in Greenville.”
The ballot measure amended the city charter to grant GEUS authority to install Internet service, according to Price.
Once the cable got installed, Price and Dickey noted, the city welcomed its first customers to its new service in 2001. Dickey said GEUS took in various neighborhoods one at a time to deliver the high-speed service they said businesses began requiring.
“It was fast and furious in the beginning,” Dickey said. “Lots of people were waiting for the service.”
Then something happened to the attitude expressed previously by the companies that told GEUS that they were unable to install the high-speed service, according to Price. Companies such as Time Warner and AT&T, which said initially they couldn’t provide the service, became more than willing to compete with GEUS. Thus, the public utility began going head to head with companies seeking to do business in a community that they said initially was too small for them.
Strange, yes? Kinda.
Price said GEUS has about 50 percent penetration in the city, adding that it supplies Internet and TV service to roughly 5,200 businesses and homes out of about 11,300 meters within the city limits.
Dickey said the city has about 400 lots platted currently on which homes will be built. “GEUS service will be available to all of them,” he said.
GEUS is rightfully proud of the service it provides to its customers, Price said. “The public has access all the way to the top,” she said, explaining that if anyone has a concern about the service they’re getting, they can come in and speak to her, or to anyone in the higher echelons of city administration. “We’re a public entity,” she said. Price added that GEUS’s status as a non-profit organization means “we’re not as nimble as our competition” in terms of offering various prices for service.
Additionally, Price noted that because GEUS’s Internet-TV service is a publicly owned, “We don’t do any promotional pricing. We also have to be transparent on how we charge our customers.”
Internet systems manager Jason Minter noted that “all our revenue is reinvested into the system.” He is proud as well of the service the city is able to provide its customers. “I believe GEUS is a trusted provider,” he said. Minter explained that the city’s response time to customer complaints or service outages is immediate. “We can get them running usually within a very short amount of time,” he said.
Minter said he employs four installers and a single line technician to serve a community of nearly 30,000 residents.
“We’ve been providing electrical service since 1891,” Dickey said of GEUS’s lengthy standing in the community. “We figured that if you’ve been that good for 120-plus years we ought to be able to provide Internet service,” he said.
Dickey said Greenville was ahead of the curve near the end of the 20th century as it began planning to go public with its own network.
Price, Dickey and Minter all acknowledged that Greenville is in the midst of a serious “growth mode.” They are prepared to outfit anyone who wants it with high-speed Internet and TV service. As they noted, the pace of the need for knowledge is accelerating. Greenville Electric Utility Services, they suggest, intends to keep pace.
John Kanelis, former editorial page editor for the Amarillo Globe-News and the Beaumont Enterprise, is also a former blogger for Panhandle PBS in Amarillo. He is now retired, but still writing. Kanelis can be contacted via Twitter @jkanelis, on Facebook, or his blog, www.highplainsblogger.com. Kanelis' blog for KETR, "Piece of Mind," presents his views, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of KETR, its staff, or its members.
Kanelis lives in Princeton with his wife, Kathy.