New company to offer internet and voice services

DeWayne Bartels and Jennifer Freeman

HiBeam Internet &Voice announced Dec. 1 it is offering high speed Internet and voice services in portions of Washington, North Peoria, Dunlap, and East Peoria. Morton is in the company’s future plans.

“HiBeam understands that technology matters, but that’s not what we’re about. We want to make communications simple. Our goal is to help the people of Peoria and surrounding areas enjoy the benefits of high speed Internet and voice services,” Christopher J. Benyo, chief of customer operations for HiBeam, said. “We’re excited to bring a new, customer friendly, choice in Internet and voice to this area.”

Political response

At Monday night’s city council meeting, the council voted to extend the current contract with Comcast, the city’s main Internet, phone and cable TV provider until March 31, 2010, while they are reviewing details of a proposed franchise agreement extension.

Washington entered into a cable TV franchise agreement with Comcast, then UACC Midwest Inc, for a period of 18 years Jan. 1, 1992, ending Jan. 1, 2010.

The proposed renewal of the franchise agreement would extend the contract for another 10 years.

According to city administrator Bob Morris, Washington has not had the negative experience with Comcast that some surrounding communities have had.

“We get some complaints but they are few and far between,” he said.

The city council has enlisted the help of Barry Orton, a private consultant out of Madison, Wisc. who specializes in cable TV franchise agreements, to guide them in their decision of whether or not to enter into another agreement.

Peoria is also currently reviewing their relationship with Comcast.

At-large councilman Eric Turner, on Dec. 1, upon learning of HiBeam’s arrival in the Peoria market, expressed excitement.

“I’m a firm believer competition is good,” Turner said. “It will benefit the citizens and the city.”

Turner has been a vocal critic of Comcast, the city’s main Internet, phone and cable TV provider.

He has held two public hearings to allow the public to vent frustrations with service and pricing.

Turner said, Dec. 1, that he has little hope that Comcast service is going to improve anytime in the foreseeable future.

“They are moving their operations outside Peoria,” Turner said. “I think there’s less potential for good service.”

Turner said the public’s inflamed attitudes toward Comcast have promoted him in recent meetings to severely curtail the length of the Comcast cable franchise agreement with the city.

Rather than the customary 10 year franchise agreement at the Nov. 10 city council meeting Turner proposed a seven year agreement. That proposal was tabled at that time.

A new franchise agreement has not yet been reached, Turner said.

“I imagine the agreement will come up again before the city council in January of February,” Turner said, Dec. 1.

“We’ll finalize it then and I want it to be no more than three to five years.”

Market response

Benyo said Dec. 3 the public response to the limited advertising done to roll out the service has been “overwhelming.”

Benyo said the response convinces the company they have made a good move coming into this area.

The decision to come into this area was done by looking at maps. He said the company took a look at every market within 500 miles of St. Louis with two things in mind. They were looking for cities five miles or less in diameter and more than 700 residents. Then they looked for locales with available spectrum to host Internet and digital cable service. The cluster of cities surrounding Peoria fit the criteria they sought.

“Everything came together here,” Benyo said. “Our future here is wide open. “

Benyo said they offer service to both residential and business customers. The company hopes to offer service in downtown Peoria as well in the future.

Benyo said for someone to determine if they fall within HiBeam’s service area go to www.myhibeam.com and type in your address.

Benyo said the company has applied for a $2.5 million federal grant of stimulus funds to extend their service area.

“We don’t have an answer yet,” he said.