Blog Archive

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

One Last Post About Cable Channel Changes

For those of you who read this blog regularly this is going to sound very familiar. We have discussed it already quite a lot, but confusing crawls across the bottom of many of our cable channels are resulting in phone calls to our switchboard, so this is one more attempt to explain what is happening.

First thing first. The big news all over many cable news shows today is about a battle between Viacom (owners of several cable channels like: Comedy Central, CMT: Pure Country, MTV, MTV 2, MTV Hits, MTV Jams, MTV Tr3s, Nickelodeon, Noggin, Nicktoons, Spike, The N, TV Land, VH1, VH1 Classic, and VH1 Soul) are in a bitter cost dispute with cable systems owned by Time Warner. Apparently Time Warner is refusing to pay what Viacom is asking beginning on January 1 and they are willing to express that displeasure by turning all those channels off as the ball drops tonight on Time Square. While this is exciting, it has nothing to do with us here in Glasgow. No matter what happens in this dispute, it will not impact your programming from Glasgow EPB.

It would be wonderful if that were the end of the story, but, it isn't. Hundreds of small independent cable operators like us are also in a dispute with NBCU (owners of cable channels on our system like: MSNBC, CNBC, USA, BRAVO, SCI-FI and NBCU-HD).
While we are fairly confident that we will reach an agreement with them on price, there continues to be the chance that NBCU will turn these channels off until we reach an agreement. If you wake up to nothing on these channel positions on New Year's Day, this would be the reason.

Other changes are the ones we have talked about many times over the last month. The latest information on these changes can be seen by watching EPB Cable6.

Oh, and Happy New Year!!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

What Does Electricity Really Cost?

The cost of electricity in Glasgow is going down some on January 1. This comes as a result of a reduction in the FCA (Fuel Cost Adjustment) which TVA recalculates four times per year. The electricity which powers your home will cost you about 6% less on January 1, to about nine cents per kWH, but let’s talk for just a bit about the real costs associated with the electric power we use in Glasgow. It really costs a lot more than the nine cents per kWH you pay will us for it. Here is what I mean.

We have talked before about the fact that the power we use in Glasgow is mainly generated by the burning of coal at the many coal-fired generation plants operated by Tennessee Valley Authority. In fact, TVA burns over 400 tons of coal per day just to keep our lights on here in Glasgow, and the burning of that coal has costs that are not recognized in that nine cent cost. For one thing, the burning of that coal dumps unbelievable volumes of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere from the smokestacks at the coal plants. For example, one of the measurements we are making available to our customers who have one of our new internet-based electric meters is the amount of CO2 that is dumped into the atmosphere each month just to power their home. This month my home’s electric power consumption caused 4,500 pounds of CO2 to be dumped into our atmosphere. There are about 5,500 similar homes in Glasgow alone, and the CO2 going into the atmosphere is only one of the added costs of the power we use. Our waterways suffer as well.

You have likely heard about the massive spill of coal ash slurry from the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant near Knoxville, Tennessee. This link takes you to one of the many newspaper accounts of this event. This link takes you to a first hand account of the disaster from someone who went there. The facts are that on December 22 a dike holding in an impoundment of over one billion gallons of coal ash slurry gave away and emptied its contents into neighborhoods surrounding the Kingston Fossil Plant and, in turn, into the rivers which feed into the Tennessee River. No one yet knows what the long term impacts of this spill might be. We do know that the ash is what is left over after the pulverized coal is burned to make steam to turn the generators that keep our lights on. It is also made up of the objectionable particulate matter that is scrubbed from the smoke which results from this combustion before it exits the smokestack. It is laden with heavy metals like mercury, lead and arsenic. Here you can read an inventory of just what horrible substances are in that ash. That is why we are scrubbing it from the smoke. So, it only follows that if we do not want it in our air, we also do not want it in our water. Yet, there is where it is headed, one billion gallons of it. This cost is not a part of the nine cents you pay for a kWH, but it is still a massive expense, don’t you think? You can bet that the cost of the cleanup will be added to our power bills very soon.

The story of this coal ash spill is far from over, but one thing is certain, the environmental cost of our energy consumption dwarfs the monetary cost. Every single element of the mining, transportation and burning of coal damages the water and air so essential to human life on our planet. There is no such thing as clean coal! We all need to ponder this at every revolution of the electric meter on the side of our house. We all use too much electric power. We use it at the wrong times of the day, and all of the power we use results in long term damage to spaceship earth.

Suddenly nine cents per kWH seems way too cheap. My guess is that, by the time all of the results of this massive spill are known and tallied, coal will no longer be the cheapest way to produce electricity. The folks downstream of Kingston Fossil Plant will be the first to vote for that.
Sunday, December 21, 2008

Mother Nature Rearranges Some Channels




Even though we have been talking about the big television channel revisions for some time now, you may be surprised when you turn on your television this morning. The storm which blew through Glasgow on Saturday night included a rogue lightning bolt that struck our antenna tower and damaged a lot of equipment -- mostly equipment associated with Nashville based television stations. The damage is causing us to scramble and cobble together repair solutions. One of those solutions will be to go ahead and implement some of the channel additions/deletions that were scheduled for January 1. Since a few Nashville broadcast stations were already going to be dropped due to their overly aggressive demands for payment, it seems silly to repair that equipment for just a few more days of use. So, let me tell you about the changes we are planning to implement immediately.

We hope to have WTVF (our channel 10) and WKRN (our channel 25) back up using alternate antennae sometime on Sunday. The HD CBS feed from WTVF will be a much bigger problem but we are going to attempt to salvage our CBS HD feed from WLKY to replace it temporarily. We are not sure if this will work nor are we sure how long this will take.

The feeds for WNPX (our channels 175-178) are just going to be down for a while. Ditto for our Nashville public broadcasting channels -- WNPT (our channels 198, 199, and 510). These will be down until the weather moderates enough for someone to climb our 450 foot tower and do the work at the top.

WUXP (our channel 15) and WZTV (our channel 17) were already slated to leave our system on January 1. Since Mother Nature has dealt us this blow, we are going to take her suggestion and leave them off and start making the connections to debut their replacements as soon as possible. WMYO will appear on channel 15 as soon as possible. WBKI will take the vacant spot on channel 17 as previously explained in posts on this blog.

We are sorry that this damage and these early changes might cause some viewing interruptions during this time of year when the weather and family gatherings dramatically increase television viewing. We will work diligently to affect these repairs and changes as soon as humanly possible.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Changing Channels

Last week we issued a press release which described the EPB’s decision on the broadcast stations matter we have been discussing for a couple of months. In case you missed that information, this post should help make the changes, and the events which lead to these alterations to our basic cable lineup clear. The bottom line is that we were not able to convince some of the broadcasters to accept reasonable rates and those stations will disappear from our lineup on January 1. Some of those openings will be filled with new broadcast stations. Disappointingly, the prices we were able to negotiate are still such that an increase to our basic cable rates of $1.75 per month will become effective January 1, 2009. We hate doing this, but, as a non-profit corporation, we do not have the funds to absorb these increases without passing them along to our customers.

Beyond the changes to our basic cable lineup, there are also a number of changes about to happen at all levels of our various programming tiers. Although we are happy to be bringing back some old favorites like WSMV and WHAS, we are not proud of the confusion that many of you will feel when you go looking for programs you are accustomed to viewing after January 1. However, we have developed a chart that should be useful in helping you track the changes. You can view that chart by clicking on this link. As you can see, there are going to be a lot of new stations and programs in a lot of new positions. Over all, we hope you will find these changes welcome and an enhancement of our product.

We don’t want to belabor the point, but the broadcast station that is responsible for the lion’s share of the rate increase is WBKO in Bowling Green. We do not intend to forget about this cruel injustice and we don’t want you to forget either. Far too often, Glasgow’s economy leaks precious dollars to businesses in Bowling Green. The demand of WBKO and their parent company, Gray Television, Inc., for $50,000 per year from the people of Glasgow, in return for our continued right to view their programming, is overtly greedy, no matter how you slice it. In return for the new $50,000 per year charge we get nothing new from WBKO. They are not opening a local office in Glasgow and employing any local folks. They are not dedicating any new minutes of their newscasts to Glasgow issues. They are not converting their newscasts to High Definition to complement our HD tier. Rather, the real story behind this charge is likely the need of their parent company for new revenue in return for no new expense. Gray Television, Inc., (a link to their website is here) has something less than an outstanding record of financial performance. Looking at their corporate information one discovers that their common stock was selling for about $9 a year ago and, as this is written, a share of their stock is now selling for under 50 cents! In fact, the New York Stock Exchange recently notified them that their stock will be removed from the NYSE if its value continues to be so low. So, it seems a safe bet that their plan for replacing revenue that they are unable to generate by simply running an efficient business in a free market system is to gouge the cable operators and, ultimately, the viewers that are essential to their plan to sell advertising. They do not appear to be financial geniuses. In summary, in a fashion similar to the recent decisions by our government to bail out businesses who became ineffective through corruption and greed, the people of Glasgow, and other cities where they do business, are also bailing out the folks at Gray Television, Inc.

While I am ranting, you should know that the greed epidemic does not begin and end in the halls of the broadcast stations. We are also fighting a similar infection with the folks at NBC Universal. NBCU owns several services that we provide to our customers in Glasgow. They are CNBC, MSNBC, USA, Sci-Fi, Bravo, UHD and the extended Olympics Games coverage. Right now they are asking for increases in the fees charged for these services that run from 8% to 26% with the guarantee of additional increases each year of about 12%. These increases are both aggressive and unrealistic and we, along with a large number of small cable operators like us, are refusing to agree to these increases. Although it would really surprise me if they cut off our signals from these services on January 1 as our discussions continue, it is certainly within the range of possibilities. It seems that greed knows no boundaries of conventional wisdom.

Finally, it is that time of year again when our refusal to cave in to the outlandish demands of the folks at Fox Sports Net South results in our customers not being able to watch a few University of Kentucky Men’s basketball games. As most UK fans already know, FSNS has exclusive broadcast rights to five UK vs. “Cupcake U” games each year and this year is no exception. Those games are as follows and they will not be available on our cable system:

Dec. 3rd, UK vs Lamar
Dec. 7th, UK vs Mississipp Valley St.
Dec. 20th, UK vs Appalachian St.
Dec. 27th, UK vs Florida Atlantic
Dec. 29th, UK vs Central Michigan

The only hope for watching these games may be to go to www.espn360.com and watch them on your computer!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Broadcast Stations vs. Glasgow's Economy

When the EPB meets this week they will be considering the latest offers from the television broadcasters relative to what they are going to charge the people of Glasgow for the privilege of viewing their programming via the EPB cable system. You will recall that this is the broadcaster's little "agreement among friends" to extract massive payments for programming that everyone is accustomed to receiving for free. Curiously, they all decided to make these demands this year.

The EPB Board will be considering some painful choices. We know our customers are already rocked by financial hardship. The economy is in trouble. The cost of electric power is spiraling. In short, everyone should realize that this is not the time to demand more money from folks who are already hurting. But, that is exactly what the broadcast television stations are doing.

A couple of things are certain. Some of the broadcast stations you have been getting for years will disappear on January 1, 2009. However, all is not lost as we may be able to add a couple of stations back to our lineup that have been gone for a long time. Finally, it is also certain that the very best deal we can negotiate will still result in an increase in the rate for our basic tier of programming. Right now it looks like the increase will be in the neighborhood of $1.75 per month for the basic broadcast tier, but that final decision will be up the EPB Board when it meets.

I think everyone should know that our friends at WBKO in Bowling Green are being the most hard- nosed about demanding money (if we agree to what they are demanding they will be taking $50,000 per year out of Glasgow's economy) and refusing to negotiate more reasonable terms. Each of the other broadcasters started off asking a certain amount and then were willing to negotiate with us for lower amounts. This has not been the case with WBKO and as time winds down, it does not seem like they are going to change.

This is another example of the problems faced by Glasgow's local economy. There are simply too many businesses (like WBKO) that are determined to export money from Glasgow's economy while providing precious little for us in return. These are the problems that Glasgow's new movement, Sustainable Glasgow is being created to address. We simply have to learn how to provide more goods and services for ourselves such that we can keep our money in local circulation and enjoy the "multiplier" effects of sustaining local businesses. In the future, every time I look at WBKO's programming I will be thinking about the $50,000 per year they are taking from us and how that money might have helped a local business person grow his business in Glasgow. I hope you will too.

Of course, WBKO feels that the information and entertainment products they produce are well worth that money. But an event this weekend at The Plaza Theater reconfirmed my belief that we can inform, and certainly can entertain ourselves as well. If you were one of the roughly one thousand folks who attended the bluegrass music event at The Plaza Theater this weekend, you know what I am talking about. Local government officials made a fantastic decision to purchase and renovate this facility. Local employees and volunteers at The Plaza Theater assembled the talent and produced the show. They also sold tickets, ushered folks, sold concessions, and ran the lights and sound systems. To a large extent, the talent was local as well, and that closes the circle on my theory. We have a place, we have the management folks and talented volunteers, and we have local talented musicians. We also have wonderfully talented local thespians - The Far Off Broadway Players who are working hard to entertain us locally as well.

So, my point is this. Distant companies who are enriching themselves by siphoning off Glasgow's wealth better pay attention to the changing tide. Sustainable Glasgow intends to work diligently to identify places where our treasure is leaking out of the community to vendors who might be relying too heavily on our slumber. Together, we can awaken Glasgow's determination to protect itself and provide for our own needs.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Your Digital Set Top Box is Acting Funny

Many of you noticed some strange behavior by your digital set top box this week. Monday night, in preparation for our upcoming roll-out of Video-On-Demand (VOD), there was a universal software upgrade to all 3,000 of the boxes in Glasgow. Some of the boxes did not respond well. By that I mean that some refused to display the guide, some refused to respond to the remote control, some refused to carry out the trash and say "please" and "thank you."

We have found that most of the boxes can be whipped back into shape by simply unplugging the power cord for a few seconds and then plugging it back in (don't you wish this was effective on errant children?). After the power down, they usually are back in service with the new software within an hour or so. However, I have noticed a couple of changes that are simply Motorola's idea of improvements. Those changes will not go away, even after unplugging the box and rebooting it.

The change I noticed last night was with my "guide" button. In the past I could push it once to get the guide and then I could press it again to summon the little menu at the bottom of the screen. I liked that feature because it meant no matter which button I pushed, I could get the screen I wanted just by pushing it some more (this is akin to the male theory that everything can be fixed by pushing harder or getting a bigger hammer). Alas, now when one pushes the "guide" button a second time you just get a listing of the upcoming programs on the channel you happen to be tuned to at the time. We have tried, but so far found no way to get the old "push guide twice if you really want the menu" feature to return. So, it looks like something we need to get used to.

We will keep you posted as we find other changes. You can keep us all posted as well by commenting on this post by clicking the "comments" link below and posting what you have discovered. I'm sure we all would like to hear what changes you might find. Oh, and I have now seen VOD demonstrated and it is waaaay cool. You are going to love it and it should arrive on your set well before Christmas!
Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Want to Know the Latest? Learn to Twitter!

There are always a lot of new things going on at the EPB, but this latest thing is a way for you to better keep up with all of the other things. We have discovered Twitter, and we think it might be a real breakthrough in our ability to keep our customers posted on what is going on -- right now!

To participate in getting the very latest real-time information, just click on this link or look on the left side of this blog at the new area entitled "Twitter Updates" and click on the link at the bottom of the updates that says "Follow the EPB on Twitter." Once there, follow the instructions to sign up for an account and then click on the "Follow" button. Then each time you come back to Twitter.com and sign in, you will see the updates from us! Also, if you have a cell phone (who doesn't?) and if it can receive text messages, enter that information when you are signing up for your Twitter account and you will get the EPB updates instantly when we post them. Even if you were sitting in the dark after a power outage, you would get the updates from us via your cell phone. We think that feature has tremendous possibilities.

This very morning is a great example of the possibilities. This morning we arrived to find many folks calling in to report problems with their digital set top boxes that came as a result of a software upgrade early this morning. The fix for this problem is simple and we realized that if most of our customers were already receiving our Twitter updates, we could broadcast simple instructions via Twitter that would save everyone the trouble of calling in and having us give the instructions one at a time. Obviously we could do the same thing with widespread power outages. Once we realize that a group of several hundred homes are off we could Twitter the information out to all, and, even if you were sitting in the dark without the ability to check Twitter or this blog for information, you could get the information via text message to your cell phone!

Of course, it will take a while for us to get thousands of customers signed up for Twitter and receiving these updates, but, let's start this morning and see how fast we can go! Oh, and by the way, if your digital box is one of the ones that is mysteriously blank this morning, just unplug the power cord, wait about ten seconds, plug it back in and wait about twenty minutes and the new software should download and bring you converter back to life. If that does not work, give us a call!


Monday, November 10, 2008

Broadcast Stations Update

As we described in our last post several days ago, we are in a full-blown arm wrestling battle with the television stations in Bowling Green, Nashville, and Louisville over the fees they want to charge us for the right to provide their signals to you via our cable system. It would be wonderful to report that they have all seen the error of their ways and have decided to allow us to continue receiving and distributing their signals without charge, but such is not the world we live in today. They want money and they want a lot of it -- starting January 1, 2009.

So far only a couple of things are already clear. We are definitely not going to be able to make a deal with the folks at WZTV (our channel 17 which is a FOX affiliate out of Nashville) or WUXP (our channel 15, a UPN affiliate also out of Nashville) so you can already anticipate those channels being gone from our lineup on January 1. However, we are looking for replacements for them.

We are cautiously optimistic that we are going to reach a reasonable deal with WNKY (our channels 7 and 8) out of Bowling Green. We are also fairly optimistic about reaching a deal with WDRB (our channel 16), a FOX affiliate out of Louisville, and we will clearly have deals with KET, WKYU, and WPBM (our channels 11, 18, 23, and 24. Curiously, our neighbors in Bowling Green at WBKO (our channels 12, 13, 14, and 513) are being particularly aggressive in their demands for compensation and we do not have an agreement with them. At the same time, WTVF (our channel 10 and 515), and WAVE (our channel 99) are also not done deals as we have yet to get any sort of final offer from them. We are holding offers from WSMV (NBC affiliate from Nashville that we have not carried for several years) and WHAS (ABC affiliate from Louisville that we also have not carried for several years) and may move forward with these stations if we do not reach reasonable terms with these other stations very soon.

Even at my most optimistic view of how all of this will play out, the result will still likely result in an increased cost of over $1.50 per cable subscriber. As always, stay tuned to this site for the latest information on how this is going to play out for cable customers in Glasgow. Your views and comments and suggestions are always appreciated!
Friday, October 24, 2008

Broadcast Brouhaha Breaks Out

For the last few weeks the EPB and the broadcast television stations have been in a high stakes game of chess on your behalf. This match is between the EPB Cable Television operation and the broadcast stations that make up about 16 channels of our basic service. Every three years our contracts which cover the permissions for us to carry the broadcast stations (the ones that are actual television stations like WBKO, WNKY, WAVE, WLKY, etc.) expire and must be renegotiated. Historically that has been a relatively simple process wherein the broadcasters ask for certain channel positions and other minor concessions in return for giving us permission to carry their signals. This year, just when we are all being rocked by the turmoil in our economy, we are seeing a new resolve from all of the broadcasters to also ask us to pay them large amounts of money for this permission! You can read more about this issue here.

While we have yet to get formal requests from all of the stations we presently carry, it appears that all but the local low-power station (channel 18 from Scottsville) and the KET/PBS non-profit stations, are going to ask us to pay them large amounts if we wish to continue carrying their programming on our cable system. This is truly bizarre and, considering the strife in our economy, exceedingly poor timing for them to start showing this level of greed. While anyone can still put up an antenna and pick up these broadcasts for free, if we put up that antenna and facilitate the delivery of the signal though our cable system, they feel we should pay about $44,000 per year, per station! Since we presently have nine of those stations, we are talking about a new expense of over $390,000 per year. Obviously, we simply cannot absorb that cost. Something will have to give.

To make matters worse, the two broadcast stations in Bowling Green have used their new digital transmission capability to expand from two broadcast affiliations to five. WNKY is an NBC and a CBS affiliate. WBKO is an ABC, Fox, and CW affiliate. That is important because the networks have been busy working with the affiliates to keep us from being able to shop for the best deal we can find from a broadcast affiliate for each station. It is really too complicated to fully explain here, but the Bowling Green stations have also been granted special rights to either force us to pay their price or they can keep us from getting programming from Louisville or Nashville to replace their programming through “network non-duplication” rights. In other words, if we don’t like their price and we want to drop their programming in response, they can prevent us from importing another signal from NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox, and CW, we have to get it from the Bowling Green broadcasters, period. In effect, even though our economy is collapsing, largely due to the fact that several large banking institutions have become so big and powerful that they are de facto unregulated monopolies, our lawmakers are allowing these broadcast stations to also establish unregulated monopolies! We appear to be in a position wherein we are forced to pay the fees they are requesting unless we want to offer a cable service with no, or very limited, feeds from any of the major broadcast networks. We all know that is just not acceptable to our customers.

Further, even if we cave in and pay WBKO and WNKY their “ransom”, we will still face the wrath of our customers if we raise rates to pay off WBKO and WNKY as well as the fees demanded by the Nashville and Louisville broadcast stations. On the other hand, we face unhappy customers if they lose all of the Nashville and Louisville stations. Thus we are facing a no-win scenario, all because the broadcasters and the legislators and regulators have agreed to put us in this situation. Keep watching here for updates as this “discussion” rages on. We would love to hear your feedback on this matter, just sign in and leave your comments here.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Watching the Meltdown from Glasgow

One thing none of the talking heads on television is talking about during this economic meltdown is the matter of how this stock market crash is going to affect us here in Glasgow. As the chief purveyor of the television signals that carry these talking heads, we thought we should correct this oversight. So, here goes.

First, before you read another word, you should know that the writer is not an economics expert. Rather, the author is simply a local person with some opinions on the subject and access to the internet such that my opinions can easily be plastered across this page. If you are reading this expecting more than that, please look elsewhere.

However, no one can dispute that this present crisis is rooted in the bursting of a very large bubble of inflated housing prices. But since housing prices have never been terribly inflated here locally, Glasgow really didn’t participate in that part of the crisis. The bursting of the bubble lead to widespread losses in many large financial institutions, but Glasgow does not house any of those so, once again, not a big deal here. It is true that many of us helped inflate that bubble by financing our own homes with “secondary market” mortgages. We did that for the reason that so many of us do so many things . . . they were cheaper. But even though many locals have mortgages, my family included, that may indeed be lost somewhere in this financial morass, so long as we keep making our payments there should not be a big impact on Glasgow.

Of course many local folks own stock through mutual funds, 401K’s, and other investment and retirement plans, and the value of those investments is presently in free-fall. It is certain that some local retirees are living off of the income generated by those investments and they will certainly see their incomes decrease. Other locals that have investment accounts targeted at future retirement may be looking at working longer than they had anticipated, but that should not force any locals to look for a tall building to jump off of. Those of us in that age bracket could not make it to the top of one anyway. Local investment advisors are not winning any popularity contests of late, but, their income should be quite secure because most of them get paid when we buy or sell stock, it is our problem if we lost money on the transaction generally, not theirs.

There could be dramatic impacts on Glasgow if this “crisis of confidence” results in the collapse of the automotive industry and a general resistance to folks shopping and spending. Many locals work in factories and industries and dealerships that depend upon the sale of trucks and cars and everyone with a job depends on someone being willing to purchase the products that person’s business sells. If there is anything that we really should be worried about right here in Glasgow that might be it. There is no quick fix to that, but, long term, we should be electing folks that recognize our long-term need to promote localism and growing our economy from within instead of putting all of our hope in the attraction of another outside industry. Generally however, that is a national issue that we must rely on strong national leadership to solve. This is why we should be very afraid and ready to demand more.

WARNING - POLITICAL OPINIONS COMING. For many years now we have elected leaders who employed the philosophy that government’s job is to help businesses pursue profits, and that business, in turn, should (and would) distribute that wealth among the rest of us. In the 1980's President Reagan espoused this philosophy when he said, in his first inaugural address, “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” That truism continued to echo through the Newt Gingrich revolution of the mid-90's and it can even be witnessed today from presidential debates all the way to the uber popular Glasgow Forum on Topix.com. The only problem with the philosophy is that Wall Street is now proving what we all should have learned in American History class, that Reagan had it dead wrong. In fact, the demonization of government is now having results that none of the proponents, from Reagan to Gingrich and their descendants, ever intended. It turns out that a town without a Sheriff is not a pleasant place to live. What a pity we did not learn that from the warnings issued by Hamilton in the Federalist Papers or from the experience of our parents who lived through the Great Depression! While we certainly cannot fix any of that from our position here in Glasgow, we, along with the residents of ten thousand other cities like Glasgow across the United States can certainly fix it, and we must.

Our decades-long love affair with dismantling our federal government is at the very core of the problems facing our economy today. We crashed our ship upon the rocks while we listened to the siren song of “returning power to the people,” but it turns out that dismantling regulatory agencies by slashing their budgets and appointing clueless leadership, did not return power to us at all, instead, it turned power over to the great rival of national government, the large corporations and the business community. Now we can see that getting government off the back of business simply means putting business on the back of government, and, in turn, on my back and your back right here in Glasgow.

This is not a Republican or a Democrat issue, it is about greed from both sides of the political aisle, the sort of greed that can be carried out while we regular citizens are busy trying to make a living and raise our children. What we need today are leaders like the Roosevelts, both the Republican, Theodore, and the Democrat, Franklin. Both of them saw the national government, not as a menace to be denounced and feared, but as an instrument of greater democracy and as a vital means of helping people to help themselves. Both of them were fought, every step along the way, by short-sighted men of wealth and privilege. Still, it is said that Franklin Roosevelt rescued capitalism from the capitalists. We need leaders like the Roosevelts again, both nationally and locally.
Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Something Simple

If you are like me, you wish that we did not have so many news channels on our cable lineup of late. The news has been so complex and scary that no one really wants to see it. So, perhaps it is time for a very simple and useful post from us that might take your mind off of some of the depressing economic news. So, here goes.

One of the blogs worth reading out there on the world wide web (other than this one) is David Pogue's light hearted, informative, and funny information on computers and other digital gadgets. Recently he did a post on 'The Basics' of computer use and it was shocking how many simple things about using computers and Windows that he knew, while most folks do not. All of us at the EPB use computers every day. In turn, we chat with customers thousands of times a month and most of those conversations include some amount of transferring information about tips and shortcuts that most people are not aware of. Even still, a lot of the things on David's list were new to us!

Before I can even link you to the wonderful list of information submitted by David Pogue, we need to talk for just a minute about the first tip...just what is a 'link?" A link is a graphic or even a word that appears in a different color, like this, in a blog or a web page. When you see one of these words in a different color, you can use your mouse to move the cursor over the link and then press the left mouse key. Instantly, after "clicking on the link" you are transported to another web site with new or additional information. Therefor, please click on this link to be transported to a wonderful list of useful shortcuts that will make your computer usage much more efficient and fun. Go ahead, click it!
Wednesday, October 1, 2008

October 1 2008, A Day Which Will Live in Infamy

While our congressional representatives debate in Washington, D.C. about a very controversial bill aimed at saving our economic system from a total meltdown, a very similar crisis, albeit on a much smaller scale, is looming right here in Glasgow. That statement is not made to sound overly dark, but October 1 is the day that the largest increase in the cost of TVA electric power in many decades takes effect. So, in an odd sort of fashion, the pursuit of light is setting us up for economic darkness.

Nationally the proliferation of variable rate mortgages is said to be the chief cause of our economic distress. As the interest rate on those mortgages spiraled upward, many have not been able to make the larger payments. The result has been that thousands of families have seen their homes repossessed and that has resulted in the general reduction in value of all of our homes. Thus, banks who secured loans based upon the inflated values of the real estate, have become insolvent because they cannot sell the repossessed homes at anywhere near what they thought they would be worth. But you did not come here for my explanation of the national economic crisis.

The point is that the situation here in Glasgow is eerily similar to our national situation. Instead of variable rate mortgages, all of us are facing variable rate energy bills. In particular, your electric power bill from the EPB, depending on how much electricity you use and where you use it, just went up around twenty percent. For many in Glasgow that increase will be quite painful. For many more, the increase will be the “straw that breaks the camel’s back” relative to their personal finances. More folks than ever will face termination of their electric service due to their inability to pay their bill and that will send ripples throughout our local economy. The EPB certainly does not look forward to increasing the number of electric service terminations, but we don't really have any other tools to use since any amount of electricity not paid for by one customer is ultimately paid for by the rest of the customers. So far, the rest of the customers have been unwilling to subsidize those who cannot pay. Meanwhile, even folks who can tighten their belt enough to deal with this increase will also contribute to the destabilization of Glasgow’s economy simply because this rate increase, should it stay in place for a year, will extract an additional $4 million from our local economy! That means every church, charity, and non-profit agency that depends on contributions from locals to survive will feel the pressure. Four million dollars is so much, when pulled from a community the size of Glasgow in one year, that none of us will be able to avoid feeling the impact.

The national economic crisis generally results from the unmitigated greed of several folks with Wall Street work addresses. Our local energy-derived economic crisis comes from many years of TVA rates which encouraged us all to use energy as if it were a limitless resource. As a result, we have all become addicted to cheap and abundant energy but now the supply is suddenly expensive and very finite. I am not at all sure which of those sins is the more damaging. Nationally, our congress will likely vote to rescue the Wall Street sinners by borrowing more money from China, Germany, and Russia. Locally, your rescue might come from a number of actions, but being saved by Congress is not on the list possibilities. First, you could redouble your efforts to use less electric power (you know how to do this, just turn thermostats down and appliances off). Next, you could offer up effective prayers for rain (TVA can make really low-cost power with their hydroelectric dams, but those need to be attached to reservoirs full of water, and for the last couple of years they have been at record lows due to persistent drought.). Finally, you might get ready to embrace a new electric rate environment wherein you will save money by moving your electric power consumption to off-peak times (this is the savior we have been hoping for over the last several years but TVA is glacially slow at delivering to us).

Of course, no discussion about our economy can take place without also mentioning that localism, making every possible effort to buy your needs from locally owned businesses, is also a great way to blunt the impact of this economic crisis. TVA has just opened up a huge new hole through which lots of money will drain away from our local economy. Meanwhile, you have the power to start sealing that hole by trapping more money in our local economy. Whatever you buy, think about how you can buy it from a local merchant first. It might be a long process of encouraging more local folks to offer the goods and services that we all need, but even the journey of one thousand miles begins with the first step!
Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Pride of Sideview Tennessee

If you use 31E to avoid the traffic and construction on I-65 to get to Nashville, you have driven through the community of Sideview. If you have been to Sideview you have also virtually driven right by the home of one of the titans of our generation, Johnny H.Hayes. While it is safe to say that most folks in Glasgow have never heard of Johnny, the converse is not true. Johnny certainly knew and cared about Glasgow, and millions of others like us in hundreds of other communities.

Johnny Hayes succumbed to stomach cancer yesterday, and we all lost a great friend. I am not qualified to tell you all about his life, as I was only lucky enough to know him for about twenty years. A really good summary of his life is available in this obituary written by Ken Whitehouse. I can tell you that he was a behind-the-scenes political operative extraordinaire. He was appointed to the TVA Board by President Clinton. He befriended me, and Glasgow, when we really could do nothing for him -- even though he had the power to do a lot for us. Inequalities like that meant nothing to Johnny. He just wanted us all to progress and prosper, and, occasionally he wanted me to stop by and just chat with him . . . mainly about how my kids were doing and his.

He was not a technical whiz. In the mid-90's when I prevailed upon him to support our efforts to combine broadband with our electric power network, even though almost everyone else at TVA thought it a bad idea, he supported us with his influence and even some of TVA's money. He was not sure what broadband was or if it really was a great idea, but he believed in the people that live in Glasgow and that was enough.

It is likely that, perhaps, ten thousand people counted Johnny as a personal friend. He had that kind of gravity. Any of those folks would make the same observation of Johnny. He could walk into any crowd of people, be it a crowd of ten or a thousand, and each of the people in that crowd would feel that Johnny was there just to see them. He gave of his soul and love so readily, it is not surprising that he succumbed so early. His defenses were weak because he gave so much of himself away. Glasgow, and the world, lost a great friend and a boundless wellspring of good on Saturday, September 20.
Thursday, September 18, 2008

There but for the grace of God go I

According to Wikipedia, those words were first uttered by John Bradford while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. According to legend, he was watching a criminal going to his execution. For the last week, we have been uttering those words as we watch utility crews from Galveston to Owensboro to Louisville, and on to Cincinnati, battle to return power to hundreds of thousands of homes. Galveston seems far away and easy for us to ignore, but Owensboro and Louisville are within a hundred miles of us. We cannot ignore what is going on there. This article is from Friday's Courier Journal and it offers all of us plenty of warning about what could be happening right here in Glasgow.

The lessons are very clear for the EPB and we are scrambling trying to put those lessons into action (well, scrambling as much as is possible while we are on our knees giving thanks for the close calls as opposed to a direct hit). The lessons include a reaffirmation of the need for us to aggressively trim trees. This is one thing we were already doing, so we hope that the weight of this lesson will fall squarely on those who have been vociferously protesting our aggressive trimming practices. If anyone needs any more explanation than that found in the Courier Journal for our decision to trim trees so radically, then they are never going to be convinced of anything. We are also learning a lot from the words of LG&E customers in their responses to LG&E’s efforts on the Courier Journal web site. It seems that the biggest complaints folks have about their efforts relate to LG&E’s failure to adequately inform the community on where they are working and what progress they are making. Since we happen to own and operate a broadband network and have the capacity to control web sites and television media as well, we are hatching a new plan for how we could keep our customers better informed about our progress when a disaster like this hits Glasgow, and, mark my words, it will.

We will be redoubling our efforts to establish working relationships with other utilities so we can get help when we need it. We will be having new conversations with all of the other local utilities and DES folks to make sure we know how to communicate during a crisis. We will be working with them to review our priority loads and work out plans to make sure that we all agree on which facilities should get power first after a disaster. We will be working to establish relationships with local tree trimmers, fuel providers, motels, groceries, and restaurants to make sure the community can have the basics; like food and water, after a sweeping disaster like that which has struck Louisville. In short, we are watching them closely and trying to learn from their mistakes.

There are lessons for each of you as well. Have enough food, water, and fuel on hand to get you through a week without electricity. Have working flashlights, batteries, and a battery operated radio. No matter what plans we make for restoring power, an outage lasting this long is still very possible. You too should learn from the lessons being learned in Louisville. Then, together we can all plan for the disaster we hope will not come. For me, well, I have to get back down on my knees and keep offering thanks.
Monday, September 15, 2008

Localism

In the last few days it seems like the news is more ominous than ever before. Hurricane Ike came to Galveston Texas and continued up through Louisville and beyond. In Ike’s wake are over two million homes without electric power in Texas and Louisiana. Today’s Courier-Journal says that 275,000 homes and businesses are without power in the greater Louisville area. Our supply of oil, gasoline, and natural gas has been destabilized and crippled as well and it only took a few hours for the impact to be felt right here in Glasgow. At the same time, our currency is being threatened by the failure of massive investment banks like Lehman Brothers, and let’s not forget the dramatic effect that TVA’s electric rate increase (which takes effect October 1) will have when it takes another $4 million per year out of our local economy right here in Glasgow.

No matter how you look at it, no matter what your political leaning, one thing is certain; we can no longer count on our state or federal governments to protect us and care for us. Over the last several years, the government institutions that we counted upon to regulate, and protect us from raging greed, have become best friends with those they were supposed to tame. It is happening in Washington and it is happening in Frankfort. As a result, no one is really looking out for us anymore. It seems that the forces of greed overwhelmed our government's ability to look after us. So, let’s do it ourselves! If we want safety, security, and the comfort that comes from a stable local economy and low crime rates, it is becoming more clear every day that we are going to have to take care of ourselves. There is a philosophy that we need to embrace and pursue and that philosophy has a name . . . localism.

While not simple to define, my definition of localism is the desire to make the place where we live better by reinforcing our local economy. We can do that a lot of different ways, including: identifying, and bending over backwards to patronize, locally owned businesses, encouraging local entrepreneurs and the jobs they can create, identifying holes where money leaks out of our local economy through the purchase of goods and services from non-locally owned businesses, focusing tax dollars on the provision of infrastructure that is needed to support local businesses and a durable local economy, and so forth. All of these ideas, and many more, are at the very center of the EPB’s mission and you will be hearing a lot more in the future about our efforts to support and encourage localism, but here are a few initial ideas.

There is an ocean of information on the web about the concept of localism and why we are actually paying ourselves when we purchase goods from a locally owned business. One such web site, local harvest, has an outstanding narrative about the virtues of buying locally:

Most produce in the US is picked 4 to 7 days before being placed on supermarket shelves, and is shipped for an average of 1500 miles before being sold. And this is when taking into account only US grown products! Those distances are substantially longer when we take into consideration produce imported from Mexico, Asia, Canada, South America, and other places.

We can only afford to do this now because of the artificially low energy prices that we currently enjoy, and by externalizing the environmental costs of such a wasteful food system. We do this also to the detriment of small farmers by subsidizing large scale, agribusiness-oriented agriculture with government handouts and artificially cheap energy.

Cheap oil will not last forever though. World oil production has already peaked, according to some estimates, and while demand for energy continues to grow, supply will soon start dwindling, sending the price of energy through the roof. We'll be forced then to reevaluate our food systems and place more emphasis on energy efficient agricultural methods, like smaller-scale organic agriculture, and on local production wherever possible.

Cheap energy and agricultural subsidies facilitate a type of agriculture that is destroying and polluting our soils and water, weakening our communities, and concentrating wealth and power into a few hands. It is also threatening the security of our food systems, as demonstrated by the continued e-Coli, GMO-contamination, and other health scares that are often seen nowadays on the news.

These large-scale, agribusiness-oriented food systems are bound to fail on the long term, sunk by their own unsustainability. But why wait until we're forced by circumstance to abandon our destructive patterns of consumption? We can start now by buying locally grown food whenever possible. By doing so you'll be helping preserve the environment, and you'll be strengthening your community by investing your food dollar close to home. Only 18 cents of every dollar, when buying at a large supermarket, go to the grower. 82 cents go to various unnecessary middlemen. Cut them out of the picture and buy your food directly from your local farmer.

Even though the newspapers and television bring us tidal waves of bad news about our economy and our future, Glasgow is not helpless and totally dependent on the global economy for our daily bread and our ongoing happiness, but we still have a lot of work to do. Our forefathers built us a great foundation for sustainability when they established a locally owned water and sewer system, electric power and broadband network, as well as wonderful parks, roads, sidewalks, and even recent additions like The Plaza Theater and the EPB’s Jama M. Young Technology Center. But even those systems are not perfect. While the EPB is locally owned, the electric power we sell is not produced locally and thus we are subject to rampant cost increases. In addition to our technological assets, we are blessed with fertile land and folks who know how to use it. They have established cattle farms, dairy farms, and abundant crops of all sorts. We have a lot of assets going for us so we don’t have to start from scratch to focus on localism. But we do have to start looking at things differently. We are surrounded by rich farm land that produces large amounts of food, dairy, and beef, but practically none of it is sold and consumed here. We have a lot of work to do to make it possible for our local food economy to flourish and become sustainable.

The localism movement can flourish if we look at today’s headlines, not with fear, but with the resolve to create solutions that will allow Glasgow to thrive in the new world we have created. As we see news reports of the devastation of Galveston (and even Louisville) we should see ourselves as similarly vulnerable. We should assume that fuel supply will be interrupted more often and that it will become ever more expensive. In such a world we need to develop more ways to fuel and feed ourselves from our local resources and farms instead of just taking what TVA has at whatever the cost and waiting at the tailgate of a truck just coming in from afar with our food. We should learn how to use our local talent and infrastructure to entertain ourselves locally without having to drive to Bowling Green, Louisville or Nashville to take in a show. We can also assume that many national banking and investment houses will fail, but we can invest locally and expect the return on our investment in both dollars and in a better life for ourselves instead of distant bank executives. Instead of giving foreign companies our tax dollars to entice them to come to Glasgow, we need to use our tax dollars to pay for the things that make it easier for local farmers to sell their products locally and create a durable and more enjoyable place for us all to live. With a sustainable local economy, those outside businesses and industries will be attracted to Glasgow because it is a great place for their employees to enjoy their lives instead of just because we are willing to pay them for coming. In the long run, sustainable development will flourish more with those incentives than it has using our old formula.

The world is giving us every reason to embrace localism right here in Glasgow. The time has come and the movement is alive. Stay tuned to this blog for more and more information about how we can make Glasgow better without constantly asking for more and more.

Internet Service Upgrade Update

It has been a month since we last updated you on the progress of our massive upgrade of our internet service and cable modem network, so it is time to fill you in on where we are. For the last two Sunday mornings, Wade England and his team of technicians have been at the EPB bright and early to carry out the movement and reassignment of hundreds of cable modems to our new CMTS hardware. The first Sunday produced about 1,500 homes and businesses moved to the new controller but several of those customers continued to have problems after the move such that our team spent much of the next week helping customers recover their connections. Obviously we learned from that experience and made adjustments in our procedures before the next group was moved yesterday.

Part of what we decided to do differently was to continue to move folks to the new controller, but to tell the cable modems to maintain the configuration that they used on the old controller until everyone is moved to the new controller and we can send a universal upgraded configuration file to all 5,000 cable modems on our network. This seems to be the best way to move folks with less chance of their system failing to communicate with the new controller. Of course, that means that, even if your cable modem has now been moved to the new controller, the speed of your connection is not yet fully upgraded due to the need to keep everyone the same until we can broadcast a new configuration to everyone. But you should already be noticing a considerable improvement! In fact, just during the evening of September 17 we were able to make a major improvement in the way our circuits to AT&T are utilized. Those of you in the gaming community, who have already had your modem moved to the new CMTS, should see much less lag.

At the same time, our new fiber interconnect with Bowling Green and the AT&T network located there is also nearing completion. When this is done we will be able to establish our own, locally owned, near-infinite bandwidth to the outside world via the new fiber circuit which is constructed atop TVA's transmission line that feeds Glasgow. Once we establish our presence in Bowling Green we will also be looking at ways to route our traffic to sources other than AT&T so we will no longer have all of our eggs in one basket, but that is still several months down the road.

With all of that said, our projected date for completing all of the presently planned upgrades such that you will see drastic improvements in the speed and performance of your cable modem internet connection is October 6. We are confident that you will find the wait well worth it as we are determined to provide the fastest internet access speeds available anywhere.
Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Barracuda Spam Firewall, Now at Your Service

If you are one of our internet customers, you have a new servant working for you! Please meet the Barracuda Spam Firewall which is the latest tool from the Glasgow EPB for helping you win the battle with junk email. The Barracuda Spam Firewall is the replacement for our old spam filter you knew as Postini. The Postini system was great for a few years, but could no longer meet the demands of today’s email environment. We will be terminating our contract with Postini so if you have any type of whitelist (list of email domains that you have identified as friendly) you want to transfer to the Barracuda, now is the time to do so. The Barracuda device is a state-of-the art spam filter from Barracuda Networks and is doing a wonderful job of eliminating junk spam email and keeping it from clogging our network. On average this piece of equipment is blocking over 2 million pieces of junk email a day (that is over 130 per day for every man, woman, and child in Glasgow)!!! Postini was only blocking around 900,000 pieces of spam a day so you can see why we feel the new Barracuda device is worth the money.
The Barracuda Firewall has several different layers of defense to protect us from things like email floods, viruses, and just the normal every day annoying spam emails we all get. We are going to attempt to focus on the features you, the customer, will see and what they mean, but first let’s talk about how the Barracuda Spam Firewall works.
The device and the software that drives it, assigns each piece of email that comes into the system a spam rating of “1" to “10". From the Barracuda device’s perspective, the higher the number, the more likely it is that the email is spam. Conversely, the lower the number, the more likely it is to be something you really wanted to receive. The whole system is set up on this concept and every piece of email that comes in gets tagged with a score of 1-10. The system looks at your email score and it uses the following rules to decide what to do with it:
· If the score is 2 or below, it delivers it to your inbox as a legitimate email.
· If the score is between 2 and 7, it might be legitimate but it’s probably not so it puts it into your quarantine box so that you have the option of delivering it to yourself.
· If the score is above 7, it is almost 100% sure it is spam and it drops it so that it isn’t delivered to you at all and you don’t have to deal with it.

Now let’s talk about how you go in to customize your new spam filter. By now you have received a “Spam Quarantine Summary” email from the Barracuda Spam Firewall device.
It shows you what is currently in your inbox and the easiest way to login is by clicking the link at the bottom that says:

To view your entire quarantine inbox or manage your preferences, click here.

By clicking the “click here” link you will be taken to your personal Barracuda account.
The other way to login is by going to http://barracuda.glasgow-ky.com and entering your username, which is your entire email address, and your password. If you don’t have a password yet just fill in your email address and click “Create New Password” and the Barracuda will send you an email with a password in it and instructions to log in.

Once you’re logged in your going to see a few screens which we will discuss below. First you will see the “Quarantine Inbox.”

Quarantine Inbox:
On this tab you can view the contents of your quarantine box and use it to perform several actions. To perform an action on an email, put a check in the box next to the item then click an option at the top to perform that option on your email. If you want to perform an action on all of the messages, then click the checkbox in the header right next to “Time Received” and it performs the action on all of the emails on the screen. Your quarantined emails will stay in the quarantine for up to 30 days then they start to be deleted.

Here is a description of the options:

Deliver – Choosing this will deliver the selected item to your inbox and you will receive it shortly like you would any normal email.
Whitelist – This adds the sender of this email to a whitelist which means that it will bypass all of your spam filters regardless of what the message is about and it will be delivered to your inbox. For example if you have a mail coming from jimbob@yahoo.com and it is always getting declared as spam but it’s not, you would white list an email from that user and then every piece of mail you receive from that email address will be delivered to you.
Whitelist/Not Spam – This does the same thing as the above Whitelist function plus it automatically delivers that piece of mail to your inbox and classifies it as not spam for use in your Bayesian Filter (that is a term you will see a lot and it simply refers to the way Barracuda filters each piece of email).
Delete – This does just as it says and deletes the selected email from the quarantine box on the Barracuda.

The next two options are used to load what is called the Bayesian Filter. The Bayesian Filter is basically a self learning intelligent filter that learns that you as a user think is spam, and what is not. This is different for every user so the more emails that you classify the better it works. It takes a minimum of 200 emails classified in each category before the Bayesian filter begins to learn.

Classify As Spam – Classifies this email as spam in the Bayesian filter and makes sure that emails like this are always classified as spam and not delivered to you.
Classify As Not Spam –Classifies this email as not spam and loads it into the Bayesian filter as a valid email. It then delivers it to your inbox.

There is also an actions column at the left hand side of each email listed which is a shortcut to the actions at the top. These are basically used to perform a given action on a single email without having to check the box and click the buttons at the top.
That is all there is to the Quarantine Inbox so now let’s take a look at the Preferences tab. As I’m sure you’ve already guessed the Preferences tab is where you can customize almost everything on your account.

When you first enter the preferences tab will see the Whitelist/Blacklist Options.
As we talked about above, the whitelist are things that you want to get through no matter what.
The Blacklist is email addresses that you always want to block. So if you’ve got someone who sends you emails you don’t want to ever receive emails from, the Blacklist will make the Barracuda eat those emails and you’ll never see them.
To add an email address to either of these categories all you have to do is type the email address in the blank for that category, and hit add. It’s as simple as that!!!

The Quarantine Settings tab is our next option.
It has several options you can change but we recommend leaving these alone.
Enable And Disable Quarantine - If you disable your quarantine then any of those messages which rate a score of between 2 and 7 are going to be delivered to you and the word [BULK] is going to be put in the title of the email. This is fine for users who have some type of anti spam software setup on your computer, but we do not recommend turning this off unless you’re 100% sure you know what you’re doing.
Quarantine Notification – This sets how often you would like to receive the notification emails from the Barracuda about what is in your quarantine inbox. Many users don’t want to receive those emails so you simply check Never and then hit “Save Changes.” After doing this you are not going to receive quarantine emails so you’ll need to check periodically and see what’s stuck in your quarantine.
Default Language – This one is pretty self explanatory. Please don’t change this setting.

The next tab is the “Spam Settings” tab which of course actually controls your spam settings. Under this tab you can do all kinds of stuff but once again we enable leaving it to the defaults we have set for you. However, if you want to change the settings here are what the settings do.
Spam Filter Enable/Disable – This turns off the Spam Filtering. If you are unhappy with the Barracuda and want to receive all of your emails regardless of whether it’s spam or not, you set this to “No” and click “Save Changes.” Be warned if you do this you are going to receive every piece of email that comes to your email address regardless of whether it’s spam or not.
Spam Scoring – We recommend leaving this alone so we’re not going to go into it much. If you set “Use System Defaults” to no and change the numbers, you can change how the Barracuda interprets your email. We do not recommend and don’t support you changing these settings. If you do however want to you can read the description next to each category to see what it does.
Barracuda Bayesian Learning – This is the control for the Bayesian filter which I talked about earlier. As you can see it lets you know that you need 200 of each type before it starts to work well. If you want to delete everything in your database hit the “Reset” button.
Bayesian Database Backup – This allows you to download your Bayesian Database to a file and keep it for re-uploading it later in case you accidentally erase it.

The final tab is something that I’m sure everyone is going to use. That is the “Password” tab.
This is where you go to set your password to something besides the randomly generated one which the Barracuda gives you. To do this you simply type the old auto generated password in the “Old Password” blank. Then you type what you want your password to be in the “New Password” blank as well as the “Re-Type New Password” blank and you hit “Save Password.” It’s as simple as that and now you have a password you can remember instead of having to memorize random characters.

That’s all there is too it. We hope you enjoy the Barracuda as much as we do. It is a very powerful tool that we are using to make our email system the best in town.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Now It Is Official

Last week the TVA Board of Directors met and agreed with a TVA staff recommendation to increase their base wholesale electric rates at the same time that their quarterly Fuel Cost Adjustment (FCA) takes effect. This latest increase in the cost of power will take effect October 1 and the two increases combined will amount to a staggering 20% increase in the cost of the energy we purchase from TVA. Of course, the Glasgow EPB will have no alternative but to pass this cost increase along to our customers in the form of higher retail electric rates. By the time these increases trickle down to your bill, the net cost of your electric power will likely go up about 17%.

Since this increase occurs on October 1, and since the bills you get in October and November are normally lower just because the weather is milder, which naturally reduces your consumption of energy, this rate increase will not be greatly noticeable until your December and January bills. Isn’t that when we all really need a surprisingly high energy bill . . . at Christmas time and in January as the bills are rolling in for holiday spending? To say that this is frustrating to us at the EPB would be the very definition of an understatement. We are very disappointed in TVA and in our inability to protect you from this sort of economic shock.

Should the FCA remain at this level for a whole year, combined with the upcoming increase in the base rates, this rate move will take an additional $4 million per year out of Glasgow’s economy. When we think of all the steps we are taking, and have taken, to keep rates low and keep more money circulating in Glasgow’s economy, those steps, while often painful to us, are insignificant compared to the dire effect that this rate increase will have on our economy. Try as we might there is nothing we can think of that might offset this $4 million annual raid on our community’s savings. But we must not give up.

While the "company line" on this rate increase is that an extended drought in east Tennessee has drastically reduced hydroelectric power production (it has) and the cost of coal and natural gas has risen drastically (they have), and that the cost of power TVA must buy from its neighbors is going upward (it is, but the shame is that they are buying power in the first place) the underlying reason for the spiraling cost of electric power in our region is that we have made bad decisions for the last twenty years. We have employed a rate structure that actually encouraged folks to use more electric power than necessary and at the wrong times of day. We have sought new industrial and big box retail customers for the region without any questions being asked about what energy reserves were available to serve them. We have, for much too long, sought out growth for growth's sake, without consideration of the true costs associated with that growth. All of those things have combined to put TVA, and Glasgow, in the position of having to meet each new announcement of a new factory with the need to purchase more power from the market or build more expensive generation to serve that new industry. Those are the real reasons why your power bill is going up.

We tried to purchase power from another supplier, but that attempt was successfully countered by TVA. We built a robust broadband network and have installed advanced meters capable of exploiting a new wholesale rate structure that will reward customers who are willing to change the time of day when they use the most energy, but that new rate structure is excruciatingly slow in being offered. Still, there is more we can do . . . we can all work together to respond to this attack on our treasury by trapping more money in our Glasgow piggy bank. We can fight back by doing this one simple thing. We can all redouble our efforts to spend what money we can in businesses which are owned and operated by our neighbors right here in Glasgow.

When we shop in locally owned businesses we are voting for ourselves. We are saying that we value our dollars and we long to help our neighbors be more successful, which makes us all more prosperous. Shopping from locally owned businesses is a move which cannot be interrupted or usurped by a move by a few folks on a distant board of directors. Local businesses also tend to spend their money locally. A local dress shop probably uses a local accounting firm, a local law firm, a local cleaning service and local electricians and plumbers. Eventually, those local dollars come back to benefit each and every one of us who live here. We will be talking with you a lot more about this concept of localism over the upcoming weeks, months, and years.

So there you have it. The upcoming electric rate increase that we have been warning you about for months is now official. We have worked hard to defend Glasgow from this sort of news, but have yet to be totally successful, but we are not quitting. Now lets all work even harder to find new ways to strengthen our local economy and protect it from those who would take more out of it than we can afford to lose.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Work is Under Way

We thought this day would never arrive! But, finally, our new cable modem termination system (CMTS) is being installed. The picture shows our own Wade England being assisted by Darie Marza with TVC, poring over the data that must be properly configured for the new CMTS to operate properly.

As we discussed in an earlier message, the new system should improve the performance of our cable modems and your internet access no matter where you are on our system. The new CMTS has much more "horsepower" and should do a much better job handling all of the internet traffic that is transmitted to and from Glasgow every minute of the day. However, as we discussed earlier, this process does come with the possibility of interruptions to your internet services. The work will be ongoing during all hours of the day for the rest of this week. So, the new CMTS should be working by the end of the week but we will be very deliberate in our efforts to move each internet customer to the new system. About three hundred folks have already been moved to the new system so we can do testing with them and figure out all of the nuances of the new CMTS.

On Sunday, September 7, beginning at 6:00 a.m., will start moving over the next group of about 1,400 customers. The following week, on Sunday September 14, we will again start at 6 a.m. and move another 1,400 customers over to the new controller. This process will be repeated, hopefully for the last time, on the following Sunday, September 21. During these moves customers can expect Internet outages on the days we move them. We can’t say for sure how long the outages will be but it is our intention to cause minimal downtime and have the section of customers that we move up and running normally by midnight on Sunday of each week.

So, things are going well so far in our efforts to completely upgrade our internet service. However, your individual performance improvement might be a few more weeks in coming due to our plans to do this is a very methodical manner. Before then you may see our trucks in your neighborhood doing some fine tuning on the broadband equipment before the final moves are made.


On another note, you have likely also been seeing some messages from a new anti-SPAM device we are testing from Barracuda Networks. If you have been seeing a drastic reduction in the amount of SPAM, or junk email, coming into your inbox, that is a result of the new Barracuda device. You might also be seeing daily reports from the device delivered to your inbox which detail the number and characteristics of junk email it has stopped on your behalf. All you need to do is open that report from Barracuda and review the mail it has trapped. If you want any of it actually delivered, you can tell it to deliver them. If you want any of it permanently deleted, you just have to click on "delete" beside the messages you want gone.

Presently we are only evaluating the Barracuda device to see how effective it is. We'll keep you posted on how all of this goes!
Sunday, August 10, 2008

Electric Power Demand and Electric Bills on the Rise

Later this week the news that we have been warning our customers about for the last couple of months will finally become official -- TVA will announce that the cost of electric power in Glasgow will again increase sharply on October 1. I am still forecasting something in the 15% range. Of course, everyone will be upset over this announcement, but what no one will likely mention is that another increase of this magnitude is likely to occur again on January 1, 2009. Instead of quoting what this increase will cost some imaginary "average" homeowner, let's just make it easier. Drag out your most recent electric bill and look at the electricity portion of the bill. Add 15% to that cost and you will see the sort of impact this is going to have on your budget.

The real shame about this is that the regular person, who is already challenged by the rapidly increasing cost of everything they need to survive, had little, if anything, to do with the real causes for these rapid increases in the cost of electric power. While it is true that TVA is facing upward pressure on their rates due to drought conditions that have limited their hydroelectric power capacity and sharp increases in the cost of coal and natural gas (both items that they purchase and burn to produce electricity), the real cause of this pain is a wholesale rate policy that has existed for the last twenty years. This rate structure has given the signal to everyone that there is an infinite supply of energy and that we should use all of it that we possibly could.

Additionally, TVA's economic development team has continued to pursue new development and has begged new industries to locate in the TVA region, even when they knew that they did not have the native generation capacity to serve those new loads. As a result, each new celebration for the announcement of a new factory locating in the region has been followed by a frenzy of telephone calls to TVA's neighbors in which TVA's power supply planning folks had to make deals to purchase energy from those neighbors to serve the new factory. The really nutty thing about that is the fact that TVA has had to pay much more for the energy purchased from those neighbors than what they are charging the new factories for that energy. Most thinking folks would see that such a "buy high - sell low" philosophy will not work without the rest of the existing customers being willing to pay more so the new loads can be subsidized. When December and January roll around, and you are staggered by the bill for the electricity you are using, try to remember how good you are supposed to feel about the new Toyota plant in Mississippi and the recently announced Volkswagen plant which is locating in Chattanooga. You are helping purchase the electric power for them!

It is too late now, but if only our leadership could have read this article back in 1990, and if they had the guts to follow its advice, we could be living in an energy "garden of eden" by now. It is a shame, because, as a result of a lack of leadership and our lack of demanding it, we are now about to be cast out of paradise, doomed to walk in the equivalent of energy purgatory for the foreseeable future. As I have said before, the energy cost options look more promising in Glasgow than those of most of the other TVA cities, but even here, things are going to get worse before they start getting better.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008

This is Our Home . . . How are we going to power it?

Over the last few years the cost of electric power from TVA (via the Glasgow EPB) increased about 35%. Now it appears that, over the next six months, that cost will go up again by staggering amounts (as this is written TVA has not given us the final bad news, but it is likely that we will see an increase of something like 15% on October 1 and something very similar again on January 1, 2009) over the next six months. Add this to the stress we are already experiencing at the gas pumps and the crisis many of you will feel this winter as you see the unbelievable natural gas bills and the result is a gut-wrenching fear unlike anything we have ever seen before. In fact, it would not be going too far to say that it is now okay to go ahead and panic!

We have talked about the reasons for these dramatic increases several times before in this very blog. Drought in east Tennessee is drastically reducing the amount of cheap hydroelectric power TVA can produce. Increases in the cost of diesel fuel makes transporting coal from the mines to the coal-fired generation units much more expensive and that is driving up the cost of coal. China and India are using staggering amounts of coal and diesel fuel in their zeal to make cheap consumer goods for us to purchase at Wal Mart, and that is driving up the cost of both of those fuel sources. We hate to have this fact shoved in our faces, but the real culprit in these increases in the cost of all forms of energy is the way we live our lives. We use too much energy each and every day. In other words, we have found the enemy, and he is us.

As a Glasgow resident and a customer of the EPB you have something going for you that folks who buy their electric power elsewhere do not have . . . yet. For the last twenty years we have been developing a broadband network that touches each and every home and business in our community. For just as many years we have been planning to use that network to help our population use electricity in a totally different manner than the way we have taken for granted over the last eighty years. Even though our efforts have been discounted and ignored by TVA and the other elements of the electric power business in our country for most of those twenty years, it seems that the dawn is beginning to break over our landscape of ideas about infotricity.

Infotricity is a term we coined many years ago and it is meant to identify electric power, combined with a robust broadband network, as a totally different product. Electricity is something your home and business has been running on forever, but the decisions about how much and when it is used have been handed off to major appliances for the last several decades. Those appliances; air conditioners, water heaters, freezers, refrigerators, dishwashers, washing machines, clothes dryers, etc., have developed a very disturbing habit. They tend to wind up all running at the same time on hot afternoons like the ones outside right now. When they all get together and run at the same time it creates a demand for electricity that has a sharp spike (we call it a peak demand) that lasts from about 1:00 p.m. to about 7:00 p.m. on summer days. It is that peak demand that all power generation systems struggle to meet. Those peaks cause the most coal and natural gas to be burned. Those peak demands are the root cause for most of the large cost increases we are seeing for electricity.

By comparison, our plans for infotricity will chop the top off of those peak electricity power demands by using our broadband network to break up the habits of the appliances to work at the same time. Instead of the cheap thermostat that today controls your water heater, air conditioner, freezer, and refrigerator, we can use IP (Internet Protocol) commands to tame these appliances and turn their cacophony into a symphony!

Here is how it might work. Once our high speed network is connected to your home and when the home is retrofitted with new IP-based controls for the air conditioning, heating, water heating, etc., we could work with you to establish your temperature limits and living style and put all of that information into a server that is assigned the task of orchestrating the delivery of infotricity to your home. Then, every day as TVA determines what their mix of available generation is and what the likely temperature extremes for their service areas is going to be, their generation folks would transmit information to these “infotricity servers” which would, in turn, organize the temperature targets for your home and your appliances such that they do not contribute to TVA’s peak demand. The result might be that your home is “precooled” to a temperature cooler than normal in the morning while power demand is low so that your home can coast through the afternoon longer, and get a little warmer than you would normally like, in the pursuit of a flatter demand for power. As far as your other appliances go, well, so long as you have hot water when you want it and cold milk in your refrigerator, you really don’t care when the heating and cooling occurred, and infotricity would exploit that reality. In addition you would likely have additional reminders that you need to try to reduce your energy demand during peak periods. There will likely be a reminder in your email, information scrolling across your television screen, a red/green indicator near your washer and dryer, etc. All of this will be focused at reminding you that infotricity is far less expensive than electricity and that you need to participate by cutting back your consumption during the peak times.

Technology like this will allow TVA to offset the construction of new power plants made of concrete and steel and fueled with coal, natural gas, or enriched uranium with virtual power plants made of fiber optic cables and IP addressable appliances and fueled with a flow of bits, bytes, and intelligence. In effect, even though your home will not look any different, if you participate in this new world of infotricity, you will have a piece of a massive infotricity generator in your home. The technology, coupled with your willingness to respond to signals, will form the basis for the cleanest and most sustainable method ever devised for the generation of electric power. This is an earthshaking (maybe an earth-saving) idea and, the really cool thing is, it has been developed right here in Glasgow. We are optimistic that TVA is about to start working closely with us to further our development of this idea such that it begins to provide real power to their generation fleet within a couple of years.

These same ideas will work for businesses and industrial customers just as well as they will work at our homes. The secret to better living through infotricity is in learning how to use energy during the hours when it is abundant and less during the hours when it is in short supply. It is really just that simple. This is also the only way that electric cars will ever really fit into our total energy solution. Electric cars are a great idea so long as we can make sure that folks are not trying to charge them during the hours of peak demand. If plug-in cars arrive and if we are not prepared to charge them with infotricity, they will only compound our energy problem instead of improving it. But, once again, Glasgow is in a perfect position to take advantage of this technology when it is available.

In summary, things are bad, but not as bad here. We have ignored the simple fact that all energy resources are finite and we have been doing that for many years. While we have been ignoring facts, the population of the world has doubled and a lot of the new residents have decided they want to use their share of our energy resources as well. Now we have to pay more to keep them from using the energy we Americans had come to see as exclusively ours. Most communities find themselves virtually helpless to do anything about this situation, but Glasgow has been planning for this problem for twenty years. While we cannot tell you to relax and not worry about it, we can tell you that we have ideas and plans, and you are going to have options. These options will not be painless and they will not allow us to continue to be oblivious to reality, but they do give us hope for a sustainable energy future that is better than many of our neighbors can expect, at least for a while.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Road Construction Ahead

We really wanted to give the community a great big gift for July 4, but, alas, fate, and our vendor, was not on board for our big surprise. What we intended to do was shock you with a major upgrade to our internet service that would have occurred while you were out celebrating the holiday. You would have loved it!

The upgrade we are now planning for August 12-14 will still make you happy, but now it is not going to be a surprise. During the days and nights of those three days we will be installing a new CMTS (Cable Modem Termination System) and moving all 4,600 EPB internet customers to the new CMTS. The CMTS is the engine of our internet business. Over the last several months we have been doing a lot of maintenance on our old engine and, at the same time, the people of Glasgow have been dramatically increasing their usage of the internet. As a result, the engine just has not been running up to par.

About four months ago we realized that internet traffic was growing more quickly than we could upgrade the old CMTS to accommodate. So, we went shopping for the biggest, baddest, fastest, newest CMTS (It's a HEMI!) on the market and we found it. When Motorola told us what it would cost, we fainted. But then when discussed the things many of our heavy usage customers were saying about our slowing service from the old CMTS and that had the effect of throwing cold water on us. We then woke up and gave them the order.

In reality, we really thought that our new FTTH (Fiber To The Home) architecture would grow so rapidly that we would not need a new CMTS. When your home or business is connected to the new FTTH system, you don’t even need a cable modem anymore as your internet service is delivered in scorching fast native Ethernet. But, out here in the real world, our FTTH rollout has been slower than we hoped and the growth of internet traffic in Glasgow has been far greater than we expected. So, a new CMTS for the cable modem customers became a necessary expense.

When we placed the order we agreed to pay a sum that is scary to behold, and they agreed to have it installed by July 4. But, as we have already discussed, they have now delayed us until August 12. We seem to get treated this way by vendors fairly often. It comes from being small. We plan on doing the installation mainly at night and that should have relatively little effect on your internet service as the installation takes place. However, while we are talking, you might as well know that these plans sometime go awry. Since so many folks are already unhappy with us because their service has slowed, there is little we hate more than telling you that the service might be interrupted some while we upgrade it, but that is the truth and we might as well discuss it. We hope you will see this as a small inconvenience in return for impressive improvements. For example, isn’t the section of Interstate 65 from the Cumberland Parkway to the Scottsville Road exchange in Bowling Green nice now? But, do you remember how awful it was while it was under construction?

In other words, those three days might be a bit like highway construction, but after the work is done the new highway will be well worth the trouble. We really hope you understand and we also really wish the surprise had worked out. Do we still get some brownie points for trying?
Friday, June 27, 2008

Flashing Lights and Perishing Squirrels and Blackbirds

I grew up in a house where my father took trouble calls for an electric utility. Since 1975, I have been employed in the electric utility field myself. So, for, ahem, over fifty years now, I have been closely associated with power systems and the things that make them perform well and the things that cause problems. In all of that time I have never seen anything to compare to the number of momentary power interruptions we have had over the last month caused by squirrels and blackbirds. While it is normal for us to have an interruption cause by a bird, squirrel, or snake fairly regularly; by that I mean perhaps one per week, we have had something over twenty five such interruptions in different parts of Glasgow over the last month.

I don’t know much about the lives, mating habits, and mental attitudes of squirrels and blackbirds, but it is certain that they have been up to something very strange for so many of them to simultaneously contact a grounded surface and an energized conductor over the last month. When they do that, either a power fuse blows and the folks served by that fuse are out of service for an hour or so until we can arrive to replace it, or the flash causes a substation breaker to operate which means a one second power interruption to about 400 homes and businesses. Either way, the offending animal is vaporized and the affected customers are unhappy.

Is this happening because it has been a while since we attacked the whole city with aggressive tree trimming? Is it a phase of the moon? Is it something in the air or water? It is rare that we run into a reliability problem that we cannot propose a solution for. Normally there is a solution that some liberal application of money and/or work will provide. However, this problem is vexing us. We are about to start on the north side of Glasgow with a new, very aggressive, tree trimming program that we hope will put more distance between transformers and squirrels, but none of us are sure that will keep them away. I am reminded of my own efforts to keep them out of my bird feeder and that experience leads me to predict that they will still find a way. How do we convince squirrels and blackbirds to be more careful? If you have any ideas, please let us know.

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