In 1992, the city officials of LaGrange, Georgia, found themselves concerned with the ability of LaGrange residents to transition from traditional industries to the growing knowledge-based economy. Access to the Internet and its educational resources became the primary objective in giving residents the ability to make that transition if they desired. Worried that private sector investments would not provide the needed infrastructure fast enough, LaGrange city officials set out to forge a public-private partnership to ensure affordable broadband communications access.
Over the next few years, at the prompting of Mayor Jeff Lukken, city officials began a dialogue with Charter Communications, the local cable and telecommunications provider. By 1998, the City Development Authority had issued $9.8 million in bonds for the purchase and upgrade of the local cable plant. The city rebuilt the plant to encompass a 750-megahertz, two-way hybrid fiber-coaxial system. The LaGrange Internet TV Initiative (ITVI) now had the infrastructure needed to provide residents with state of the art technology.
Charter Communications leases 619-megahertz of the plant's capacity to provide video entertainment to its customers. The lease payment for this capacity covers the city's entire debt service payment for the resources used in the infrastructure upgrade. The remaining bandwidth is used by the city at no cost to the public. This bandwidth has been used since 1999 in joint ventures such as high-speed cable modem Internet access. ITVI is able to provide Internet access to any resident, business or organization that requests it. For low-income households, the service can be provided through existing television cables free of access or equipment charges.
The favorable conditions created by city officials enabled Charter Communications to upgrade the infrastructure far earlier than originally expected. By the end of 1999, broadband infrastructure was available to every building in LaGrange. As of 2001, approximately 38 percent of residents had requested and received Internet services through ITVI. Cable modem customers comprised approximately a quarter of those users. All installations are conducted by city employees, for which Charter pays a fee to the city. This fee offsets the costs associated with Internet service.
The ITVI is the first initiative of its kind to have accomplished such a result from a public-private partnership. At little risk to the city, ITVI has provided LaGrange residents with the tools needed to compete in a changing economy. By removing service cost to the public and motivating private sector development, ITVI has ensured that its citizens and business have the opportunity to develop within a globalized economy.