Just as hundreds of Michigan municipalities are saving money and improving quality by contracting out to private firms for services including trash pickup and street lighting, one community is taking the opposite approach. The Branch County city of Coldwater is starting its own phone, cable TV, and Internet service provider business.

By June, city officials plan to install and operate a fiber-optic network for their 9,500 residents. Voters initially rejected a six-million-dollar bond sale to fund a similar plan, but approved it after assurances that property taxes would not rise.

Officials promise the venture will be profitable after three years. But the local private cable TV provider already makes a profit every year, and it doesn’t cost a cent to citizens who don’t use the service.

If enough residents want more network services, private firms can be expected to see that as a money-making opportunity and provide the services themselves.

Advocates of the city’s network business say it’s no different from electricity, water, or other municipal services. That’s true. And that’s the reason Coldwater officials should ask why so many municipalities now depend on private enterprise, instead of providing those services themselves.

For the Mackinac Center, this is Catherine Martin.