Tag: "minnesota"

Posted June 16, 2009 by christopher

In a quick followup, the Minnesota Supreme Court has affirmed the obvious by refusing to review the Appeals Court decision in the TDS (acting as "Bridgewater") v. Monticello case. This means the Appeals Court decision stands; Minnesota cities have the authority to bond for broadband networks. Read our previous coverage of this case here.

When TDS originally sued Monticello, the City had to place the investor money (raised via non-recourse revenue bonds) into escrow for the duration of the case. If the case were not resolved by June 19, 2009, Monticello would have had to return the funds to the investors, leaving it unable to finance the project. Bonding again would have almost definitely resulted in less favorable terms than those achieved before the economic meltdown.

Following the Appeals Court decision, on June 2, 2009, TDS could have had up to 30 days to request review from the Supreme Court. John Baker, an attorney from Greene Espel who represented the City throughout the process, asked the Supreme Court to expedite the review in order to prevent TDS from merely using its thirty days to run out the clock (thus winning the war while having lost every single battle).

Today, the Supreme Court sided with the Appeals Court and an obvious reading of Minnesota law: Minnesota cities are well within their authority to bond for and build broadband networks.

Monticello will immediately start work on the city's publicly owned fiber-to-the-home network. TDS has argued that such a network would now be redundant as they built a fiber network while abusing the courts to stall for time. However, it remains to be seen if TDS is truly connecting all homes with fiber, or is still using copper for that final connection (much like AT&T does in its U-Verse). The top TDS advertised speeds are 25 down and 10 up, which can be achieved with VDSL.

If TDS has truly built a fiber-to-the-home network, Monticello will be the first place in the U.S. with competing full fiber networks. However, I'm not sure that TDS will be able to compete with FiberNet Monticello on some fronts as TDS offers it television via a partnership with a satellite company. Monticello will undoubtedly have more local content and probably better customer service.

Lest you think the court battle is over, Monticello is entitled to recover some of its costs due...

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Posted June 2, 2009 by christopher

This is the report developed by a Broadband Advisory Committee established in 2006 in Saint Paul, Minnesota. It recommended a phased approach to building a network that could ultimately offer a full FTTH open-access network to everyone in Saint Paul.

The BAC recommends an incremental, phased-approach to creating a publicly controlled network that uses both short- and long-term solutions. This approach would allow City and community leaders to evaluate and make decisions at key points throughout the process.

The network would begin by creating a partnership with key Saint Paul public institutions to address their own broadband infrastructure needs. This partnership would participate in the development of a collaborative and cooperatively managed fiber network that would serve the immediate- and the long-term telecommunications needs of the partners. The cooperative venture would be leaveraged through the efficient maximization of the partners' pooled resources. The network has been coined the Community Fiber Network (CFN). Possible initial partners include: City of Saint Paul, Ramsey County, Saint Paul Public Schools, and State of Minnesota.

The BAC envisions that the CFN would have the ability to grow organically, developing in stages as new partners are added, with the possible long term goal of the CFN providing the momentum to build a city-wide fiber system to serve the entire Saint Paul community.

Posted June 2, 2009 by christopher

Monticello, a small town in Minnesota just outside the metro area, once again prevailed in court against frivolous charges from TDS Telecom, the incumbent telephone provider (doing business as Bridgewater in the court case).

Monticello, after learning that neither TDS nor Charter were interested in building a modern broadband network in the community, spent years studying the issue and eventually opted to build their own network. After the city secured revenue bonds to pay for the project in spring 2008, TDS began a campaign to delay the network -- a tactic commonly used against community broadband networks across the country.

They filed a lawsuit they could not win, but it prevented Monticello from starting the network. While they waited on the court date, Monticello lost the construction season and investor money sat in escrow. Despite winning court victory after court victory, the citizens of Monticello are unable to build the network they voted for with a stunning 74% yes on the referendum.

When the lawsuit was dismissed from district court, TDS waited as long as possible before appealing the decision in fall 2008. Due to the overburdened and under-staffed courts, the Court of Appeals took another half year to rule. Today, the Court handed down the judgment, finding in favor of Monticello:

Therefore, based on a plain and obvious interpretation of the term "public convenience" and the general intent of the legislature to promote telecommunications, the district court did not err in dismissing the action for failure to state a claim.

Regardless, even if this court were to accept Bridgewater‘s reading of the statute, the Fiber Project arguably qualifies as a utility or utility-like project. A Minnesota statute generally restricting the ability of Minnesota municipalities to issue bonds for projects outside of their jurisdiction provides an exception for bonds issued to finance property for "municipal public utilities." Minn. Stat. § 471.656 (2008). That same statute defines "municipal public utilities" as "the provision by a municipality of electricity, natural gas, water, wastewater removal and treatment, telecommunications, district heating, or cable television and related services."

The main question that remains is this: will TDS find it more profitable to appeal again and delay the inevitable competition? Our courts are overburdened enough, wasting the Court's time...

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Posted April 30, 2009 by christopher

Competitive broadband service and pricing is within reach of most Minnesotans if anti-competitive polices and practices are removed and municipal governments build broadband infrastructure, according to a new report released today by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR). The findings are contained in "Who Will Own Minnesota's Information Highways?", a report issued by the New Rules Project of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

"Minneapolis and Saint Paul have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to develop an affordable, high quality broadband infrastructure that would benefit city offices, consumers and businesses," said co-author Becca Vargo Daggett, a former information systems administrator for a private company.

"But to make that a reality, Minneapolis city leaders must revisit their decision to depend on a private company for future information needs," Daggett warned. "Given that Minneapolis has spent the last 10 years trying to get its cable company to live up to the provisions of its original franchise contract, it is remarkable that it wants to travel that same privately owned information highway in the future."

When cities offer broadband services, the competition with private companies drives prices down and improves service. The experiences with community-owned systems in Buffalo, Chaska, and Windom, Minnesota support that conclusion. The city need not act as a service provider, however. Publicly owned networks in Philadelphia and Western Utah will sell network access to private service providers, who will in turn sell services to consumers.

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