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Independence Day Looms

Independence, Iowa, will launch cable service through its municipal utility by month's end, triggering a collision with its incumbent operator, AT&T Broadband.

Between 150 and 250 customers of Independence Light and Power, the city's municipal electrical utility, are involved in an alpha test of the new 860 megahertz telecommunications network, said network general manager Darrell Wenzel.

"These folks will preview our cable service for a couple of weeks ahead of a full-scale launch," said Wenzel, the former head of AT&T's cable system in Waterloo, Iowa.

Originally set to launch earlier this month, the unveiling was held by a few weeks by normal construction and equipment delivery problems, Wenzel said.

Once fully activated, the network will offer 51 channels of basic-cable programming, along with nine premium channels and four pay-per-view channels, over a 125 homes-per-node system.

Approximately half of the town's 2,500 households have signed on as charter members, with the area's 350 businesses also showing interest, Wenzel said.

"And we continue to receive sign-up forms everyday," he added.

Wenzel said the city hopes to launch a high-speed Internet offering early next year, giving it a leg up on AT&T, which has not announced plans to roll out AT&T@Home in Independence.

Unwilling to sit on its hands, AT&T is attempting to lure back any soon-to-be former video customers by offering them a 50 percent discount on whichever level of service they order through next year. It's also baiting its hook with an upgraded network and the introduction of its AT&T Digital Cable programming package.

AT&T officials in Iowa said the city made it surprisingly easy to determine which area residents the company should pursue.

"The city published a list of its charter members," said Deb Blume, AT&T regional communications director. "Obviously, that became a marketing tool for us."

Independence is the latest Iowa community to enter the cable business, joining a list of nine municipal overbuilders that includes Cedar Falls, one of the nation's most closely studied municipal overbuilds.