At Tuesday’s monthly Board of Water, Electric and Communications Trustees meeting, the Trustees approved Muscatine Power and Water’s (MPW) 2024-2026 Strategic Plan. Utility leadership recently completed a comprehensive update to its strategic plan to reflect MPW’s adaptability and commitment to staying best-in-class in an increasingly dynamic environment.

Gage Huston, general manager commented, “This updated blueprint evolved from thorough and thoughtful evaluation of the existing Strategic Plan by a broad group of MPW employees. The updated plan takes into account the successes and misses of the past plan and more clearly states MPW’s mission and vision in line with current realities.”

In response to evolving utility and environmental challenges, MPW took a forward-thinking approach to update its strategic plan. This renewed vision reflects the Utility’s commitment to reliability, affordability, flexibility, and sustainability in serving the needs of the community. The approved plan will be implemented January 2024.

TV programming costs were another topic of discussion during the meeting. Contracts for the retransmission of content for the local “Big 4” broadcast networks (ABC – channel 8, CBS – channel 4, Fox – channel 18, and NBC – channel 6) will expire at the end of 2023. These contracts, which started out as zero cost “must-carry” networks, have become some of the most expensive channels for MPW to carry in its TV line-up.

“The channels are included in every MPW TV package and are highly watched,” said director of customer and technology experience, Erika Cox. “High costs for these networks create tension, as MPW tries to balance maintaining popular content with the unreasonable price increases and carriage requirements these networks demand.”

Since the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, negotiations have become unfairly one-sided in favor of content providers. Distributors like MPW are required to bundle “sub-network” channels with more popular channels. This forced bundling eliminates the ability to offer a la carte subscriptions to customers and drives up the rates cable and satellite operators charge. Streaming providers are facing similar price increases cable and satellite operators have experienced, with some of the most popular streaming services announcing significant price increases over the last couple of years.

Due to the cost of these retransmission contracts and concerns over excessive contract provisions, MPW has partnered with the National Content & Technology Cooperative (NCTC) to negotiate the ABC and NBC contracts on its behalf. In addition, MPW has engaged an industry consultant to assist with the CBS contract negotiation. MPW staff will negotiate the Fox contract.

“As we navigate these negotiations, the balance between providing quality content and reasonable pricing remains a challenge for the cable TV industry,” continued Cox. “While it’s always an option to drop channels, we know our customers greatly value the content the Big 4 networks provide. We hope for reasonable outcomes to keep the networks our customers want.”

August financial results were presented to the Board. Focusing on operating margins, Electric was at $1,709k, Water was at $258k and Communications was at $358k, consolidating at
$2,324k. Mark Roberts, director of finance and administrative services, noted, “It was a solid month for the Utility.” He further explained, “MPW, especially the Electric Utility, has significant depreciation and asset retirement charges that affect income. Those non-cash expenses can be distortive as they underrepresent the financial health of MPW.”

The Utility will be conducting a customer survey, anticipated to be launched in October, to engage customers and seek feedback on a variety of topics. The survey will be sent via email and should take approximately 7-10 minutes to complete. Huston added, “As a municipal utility, MPW values its customers’ opinions to help shape and improve services – putting customers in the position of advisors in our continuous improvement journey.”

In other Board action, the Trustees:

  • Approved payment for the August 2023 expenditures and transactions.