TonkaConnect Initiative Shelved, More Education Needed

The TonkaConnect project of the Lake Minnetonka Cable Commission, comprising many suburbs west of Minneapolis, is going to pause after some of the city councilmembers of communities within the project were unsupportive.

“I think [the LMCC executive committee] realized that if a municipal fiber network is ever going to be built, the cities need a considerable amount of time spent in educating and understanding the significance of building such a system,” said a memo from Sally Koenecke, LMCC executive director.

The $81 million proposal sought to provide 25,000 households in communities from the 17 member cities with Internet, phone and cable fiber optic services.

I have occasionally offered technical advice to this ambitious project and have watched as Mediacom and other incumbent providers spread rumors and lies to disrupt it. These companies will stop at nothing to preserve the limited competition they rely upon to maintain their market power.

“I’m personally against spending any money on the fiber optic project,” said Orono mayor Lili McMillan. “What I want to do is send a message. I don’t feel government should be in this.”

To be clear, if Lili McMillan doesn't want the government to build a next-generation network, they will have to continue relying on Mediacom cable and slow, unreliable DSL services. Their choice. Their incumbents do not have the capacity or interest to build a next-generation network themselves but they do have the capacity and interest to prevent any other party from doing so.

As Ann Treacy notes at Blandin on Broadband, this is not necessarily the end of the line and may actually serve to increase the desire of people in those communities to take action:

Unfortunately I think that having interest if the price is low enough might not be enough to motivate a community through the perils of community supported fiber. But I always remember the folks in Monticello saying that each set back in winning over the residents just made them stronger in the end. They were talking about the super majority referendum required for them to pursue their community network – but the same may apply here. You need full community support and interest to see a community network to fruition.

I am including a video they produced to explain the project below.

This video is no longer available.