By Rick Kennedy, managing editor
The February 20 meeting of the Hope Water & Light Commission proved eventful on several levels as an all-star cast of officials and dignitaries showed up on Wednesday morning, which ran over 90 minutes.
In the first order of business, Dennis Ramsey, the former Hope Mayor, was sworn in by Judge Randy Wright to officially start his second term on the HWL Commission, after being appointed again by the Hope City Board last month.
Ramsey’s second term will be five years, after serving a shorter term last time due to the Commission’s realignment. Ramsey’s first term on the commission ran from January 2016, then into 2017 and 2018.
Familiar figures including current Hope Mayor Steve Montgomery, Hope City Manager Catherine Cook, UAHT Chancellor Chris Thomason, and SWEPCO’s Jennifer Harlan were all on hand for the swearing in.
The Commission’s next order of business saw the leadership torch passed longtime Commission Chair Jerry Pruden to Lester Sitzes III, who will preside over the HWL meetings over the next year. Sitzes has been a member of the HWL Commission since January 1992, and he served as Vice-Chair over the past year.
Ladell Douglas was named as new Vice-Chair, while Judy Davis was named as Secretary of the commission.
In accepting the chairmanship, Sitzes praised the outgoing Pruden, saying “He was a great chairman and did a great job.” Pruden will continue to serve on the HWL Commission.
A good portion of Wednesday’s early morning was devoted to survey commissioned by HWL to its service area regarding the possibility of HWL offering broadband Internet services to its customers.
Russell Cornelius presented the survey results, and among the highlights, Cornelius noted:
• the survey included 1,200 customers who were emailed, 1,000 contacted by post card, and 400 called directly by phone. Over 889 responded to the survey.
• 23 percent of those surveyed had no Internet service in their homes
• Among the existing providers, Hope CableTV, which provides cable-based high speed Internet, had the largest customer share at 39-percent; second was AT&T’s U-verse, which still operates as a legacy DSL service through phone lines.
• Price, speed and reliability were cited as the top three factors in customers Internet provider choices
• Netflix was identified as the top streaming service at 56-percent
• The average customer home surveyed had two cell phones, two streaming TVs, one computer, one tablet, and one gaming system
• 41-percent of survey responders identified themselves as “gamers”
• 68-percent said they would be “interested” in HWL offering Internet services
HWL General Manager Steve Saum called the results “very positive” and he said possible pilot programs were in development for possible roll-out.
Thomason spoke on the matter, saying “This is a quality of life issue as well as an economic development one. This is an exciting development, especially for our students and the high school students we have in concurrent enrollment. This can be a significant game changer for all of us.”
Saum said “We have the full intention for this to be self-supporting.”
Cornelius said that other utility companies in Arkansas are offering some kind of Internet services, citing Clarksdale and Paragould.
Saum said that as a new city utility that the City of Hope Board of Directors would have to approve the Internet initiative, which could be considered at the board’s March 5 meeting.
In other HWL news from Wednesday:
• the board heard a tower bid for Spring Hill by Wallace Tower came in at $183,000
• the board heard that HWL changed its official banking accounts from BanCorp South to Farmer’s Bank, effective in January
• the board went into a 15-minute Executive Session, requested by Saum, and coming out of the session, Sitzes said the session dealt with a “personal matter and no action was taken.”
By Rick Kennedy, managing editor