Medina residents have complained to City Hall about lack of access to high speed internet and broadband, and the Medina City Council is putting its foot down with what is at present the city’s principal source of this technology — the Lake Minnetonka Communications Commission (LMCC).
The core of the problem is the fact that LMCC policies have resulted in a slow pace for extension of broadband to residents in less densely populated areas.
The carrot for Medina’s leaving the LMCC in favor of Mediacom is having all of Medina wired for broadband within three to five years, as promised by Mediacom, versus the 15 year pace predicted for staying with the LMCC.
City Administrator Scott Johnson Wednesday, Nov. 7, got the go ahead from the Medina City Council to discuss a direct franchise agreement with Mediacom that would enable Medina to deal directly with Mediacom rather than indirectly through the LMCC. Also involved in the discussions would be Medina resident Judy Mallett, Medina’s representative on the LMCC.
However, according to Medina’s agreement with the LMCC, a city must terminate its relationship with the LMCC in order to enter into a direct agreement with a service provider.
Johnson has arranged for Bill Jensen, of Mediacom, to come to the Nov. 20 City Council meeting to present advantages to Medina of leaving the LMCC and negotiating directly with Mediacom. A franchise agreement with Mediacom could be executed as early as December, with a January start date.
Meanwhile, Mayor Tom Crosby wants Medina to ask the LMCC to show the city why it should continue with the LMCC rather than exiting in favor of Mediacom.
For years Medina has been involved in a joint powers agreement with the LMCC currently involving 17 communities. The LMCC asks each city to kick in franchise fees to pay for cable television services and then turns around and contracts with Mediacom for providing service and infrastructure.
Both LMCC representative Mallet and City Administrator Johnson explained how Medina’s low population density in rural areas has resulted in the city not having its needs met for high-speed Internet access through the LMCC.
Johnson said Medina has 49 plus miles served by current broadband infrastructure and 29.91 unserved miles. An estimated 1,000 homes were unserved as of 2012. Forty-three percent of Medina homes subscribe to Mediacom Internet and 38 percent to Mediacom TV. Mediacom has a plan to increase infrastructure within Medina to 100 percent in three to five years.
In contrast, it would take the LMCC 15 years to wire the entire city at its present pace, Mallett said.
City Administrator Johnson talked about how this is a problem. Technology has changed during the 30 year Medina membership in the LMCC. Cable television is no longer the predominant technology. Sixty percent of respondents to a 2006 city survey rated high-speed Internet service as the most desired service and 20 percent rated this as somewhat important.
“The problem has only gotten worse,” Johnson said.
He said lack of high speed Internet is a problem for people in Medina with older homes located in areas not meeting the LMCC density threshold for extending broadband service. The LMCC requires 30 homes per cable mile to qualify for getting infrastructure needed for service. Overall Medina has 15 homes per cable mile. Homeowners in recently constructed developments, such the Enclave on Hunter Drive, live in areas of higher population density, so they are getting cabling needed for broadband.
“Our problem is not shared by the preponderance of the LMCC,” Mallett said. Most of member cities are content with the LMCC’s use of the majority of franchise fees — studios, a cable TV truck, high definition cameras etc.
“We just want access,” she said.
City Administrator Johnson said much of Medina has not been able to take advantage of the studios and programming because it does not have access.
Mallett said that, by dealing directly with Mediacom, Medina’s franchise fees could be put to use directly in wiring the rest of the city for broadband. Under the present scenario with the LMCC, most of the city’s franchise fees are not going towards that purpose. The LMCC would add only two miles of infrastructure per year.
Mayor Crosby said that, as Medina talks with Mediacom, the city should discuss with the LMCC “what’s wrong with this picture.”
WIND ENERGY ORDINANCE
Medina has been working since summer on ordinance changes pertaining to alternative energy sources, such as wind turbines and solar energy. The City Council passed a moratorium on approvals for these systems to give city staff time to craft ordinance amendments.
On Nov. 7, the City Council passed amendments, pertaining mostly to wind turbines. Councilors directed Medina Planner Dusty Finke to come back to the Nov. 20 council meeting with an ordinance repealing the moratorium.
At first the amended ordinance prohibited any sort of wind turbine on residential property. In September, the City Council directed Planner Finke to draft changes allowing some residents of rural areas to have small wind turbines.
The new ordinance says minimum lot size for wind turbines in rural residential areas is 20 acres. Maximum height is 50 feet, and maximum production capacity is 10 kilowatts. A wind turbine must be within 150 feet of a structure on a property and situated at least 300 feet from the property line.
Medina resident Clarkson Lindley spoke up against allowing wind turbines in rural residential areas. He said they would ruin the area’s rural nature. Also, the 50-foot height limit would hinder effectiveness of a wind turbine and property owners would want variances from the limit. Residents of rural areas would have the financial wherewithal to sue the city about the height limit.
“In order for them (wind turbines) to be efficient, they have to be obtrusive,” Lindley said.
City Councilor Liz Weir commented that technology is improving. Small wind turbines “might become quite feasible” for homeowners.
The City Council also:
LISTENED as Medina residents Chris and Amy Barry asked for Medina’s support in asking that Xcel Energy bury its proposed upgrades of the Hollydale power distribution line when it passes within 300 feet of homes.
RECOGNIZED Girl Scouts from the Westonka-Orono Service Unit for raking and bagging leaves that otherwise would have added phosphorus to Lake Independence and Elm Creek. On their 100th anniversary day of service, scouts spent two-and-a-half hours collecting 152 bags of leaves, handing out 330 informational door hangers and marking 55 storm drains with the words “Only Rain Down the Storm Drain.”