Minneapolis is proud of its parks and trails and the City of Lakes has nurtured its jewel by fiercely protecting city parklands. The policy is effective but causing a bit of a headache for local Internet Service Provider, US Internet as the company deploys a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network in Minneapolis.
The boulevards in front of some houses are Minneapolis parkland and the Parks and Recreation board recently voted down US Internet’s request to use those boulevards for conduit for its underground network. Now, homes bordering lakes and parkland will have to wait longer than their neighbors for FTTH. The situation illustrates one more challenge facing new entrants: right-of-way issues.
No Alternatives Available
US Internet explained in December that they had no alternatives to the boulevards. They can't use Minneapolis' narrow alleys, which are too cramped to safely use the boring equipment for installing underground conduit and fiber. The hard surface of the alleys prevents winter access for maintenance.
Aerial networks are not an option either. The current utility poles are under the control of Comcast, CenturyLink, and Xcel and the city will not allow any more aerial installations. There’s only so much space on a utility pole.
Is All Parkland the Same?
Right now, the park's boulevards do not have a separate classification and are treated the same as all other parkland. Although the Minneapolis parks need money for renovations, the Park Board decided not to leverage boulevard access for money. Park Board Commissioner Brad Bourn explained to the community newspaper Southwest Journal:
“We have to be careful of the precedent we set… The purposes of our procedures are first and foremost to protect parkland.”
How to use public land for the public good can be a difficult balancing act. The Park staff is now working to find possible solutions.
Residents who want FTTH but whose homes are located along park property are waiting. Resident Julie Stenberg signed up for US Internet in part because she knows that lack of FTTH will negatively impact her property values. She told the Journal:
She said it’s frustrating — no one is picnicking on the boulevard in front of her house, and the six-foot strip of grass looks no different than her neighbors’ fiber-ready boulevards around the corner.
“It seems absurd,” she said. “Everybody on our block except three of us have access.”
For more on US Internet's project and the company, check out Community Broadband Bits episode #194; Chris interviewed co-founder Travis Carter.