Spiraling Cost Of The Gig

Monday, April 14, 2014

We are all familiar with the well-known opening by Dickens: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Of course, many of us may be less familiar with how Dickens continued the opening to his classic novel: “it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…”

News from the past few weeks have left me in a position where I think the second, less-familiar line offers a wonderful characterization of the recent tales of our city.

In one instance, we have Chattanooga’s Transportation Department refusing to usher public dollars to a private taxi company.

Let’s make this decision an example of Dickens’ “age of wisdom.”

But in another instance, we have yet another example of our city leaders pouring what appears to be unlimited dollars into the Gig. At a baseline of at least $160,000/year, Mayor Berke – citing the need to seek ways to capitalize on “Gig opportunities” – committed more public monies to promote Chattanooga’s Gig.

I will remind you that the Gig is already costing tax-payers and EPB rate-payers more than $500 million, and until EPB “upgraded” their premium internet service customers to a “Gig” this past August, there were only 10 customers of the Gig. That’s right, 10 customers after four years of promotion.

Given the Gig’s lack of success in attracting new businesses to Chattanooga, and given the complete lack of interest from area consumers in purchasing the Gig, it is without hesitation that I place the Mayor’s decision to spend even more public monies on the Gig as an unfortunate example – among many related to the Gig – of Dickens’ “age of foolishness.”

Should it not be considered foolish that we spend more than $500 million on a service that has yet to benefit the city, while our firefighters and police officers were left waiting five years for a pay raise?

Should it not be considered foolish that we spend more than $500 million on the Gig, while the Hamilton County School Board is forced to sue the city of Chattanooga to secure $11 million in unpaid taxes dating back to 1998?

That’s right. In the four years that the city invested more than half a billion dollars in development of a service that had 10 customers, the city was unable to find the money to give a raise to our police officers and fire fighters, and our city leaders didn’t fulfill our obligations to the education system.

With each new announcement of more and more spending on the Gig, it becomes clear that our city leadership has created something that they believe is too big to fail.

At this time, a number of stories about the Gig remain positive – citing its future promise. My concern is this, as we move into year five, year six, year seven and beyond and the Gig continues to under-perform, and we continue to see that the market for the Gig doesn’t exist, how do city leaders continue to justify the massive amounts of public money that has been and will be spent to sustain a product that is hard pressed to find more than a handful of customers?

Before our city leaders find new ways to waste our money on the Gig, it is important that we remind them what the core priorities are for our public dollars. Without question, safety and education should be much higher on our city’s list of priorities than fast internet.

It’s time for EPB to get back to focusing on providing electricity, and time for our city leaders to get back to focusing on its responsibilities to its residents.  

Mark West

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