Big issue in Medina: Getting Internet

“Getting Internet is one of the biggest issues in our city.”

Medina Mayor Tom Crosby said this at the Tuesday, Nov. 20, Medina City Council meeting after presentations from Mediacom and the Lake Minnetonka Communications Commission (LMCC).

“I agree,” said Doug Franchot, LMCC chair.

Both Franchot and Bill Jensen, vice-president of Mediacom, came to the City Council meeting to discuss the fact that Medina is one of five cities considered to be underserved for cable TV and high speed Internet under the current franchise agreement between the LMCC and Mediacom. Franchot brought with him Sally Koenecke, LMCC executive director. Mayor Marvin Johnson, of Independence, was in the audience. His city also is in the underserved category.

Medina and 16 other cities have a joint powers agreement with the LMCC, and the LMCC contracts with Mediacom for items such as extending service to residents and businesses in member cities.

Medina and the LMCC have a window of opportunity to rework the franchise agreement with Mediacom — something that comes along every 15 years when the agreement comes up for renewal. The franchise agreement will expire Dec. 31, 2013, but if a new agreement were not in place by then, the contract between the LMCC and Mediacom would be extended. Meanwhile, Medina seems to have a deadline of Oct. 15, 2013, for exiting from its joint powers agreement with the LMCC, according to Medina City Attorney Ron Batty.

At the City Council meeting, Jensen, of Mediacom, explained the advantages for Medina of withdrawing from the LMCC and dealing directly with Mediacom, and Franchot and Koenecke began to talk about why Medina should stay with the LMCC. But Franchot said they were not prepared that night to give a full presentation.

“Now that we know your concerns, we are willing to come back with a pitch as to why you should stay,” Franchot said. He did not want communities “to peel off” from the LMCC.

He noted that the first franchise agreement happened 30 years ago and still some cities do not have a full build out of the necessary wiring for residents and businesses to receive high speed internet. “Thirty years without full build out is not right,” he said.

Franchot added that the LMCC has limited ability to have Mediacom do something that is not in the contract. He was willing to meet with representatives of concerned cities to discuss what a new franchise agreement ought to look like.

Koenecke, of the LMCC, said that full build out is of concern not only to the five underserved cities but also to the other 12 LMCC members whose cities are fully built out. In fact the 12 cities have set full build out as a priority.

During his presentation, Franchot talked glowingly about award winning programming that has been produced under the aegis of the LMCC.

But City Councilor Melissa Martinson said that was “a moot point” because many Medina residents have no way to view LMCC programs.

Meanwhile, Jensen, of Mediacom, offered a timetable for extending fiber optic cable to underserved areas in Medina. Mediacom would build out five miles in 2013 and an additional five miles in 2014 and would have additional build out incentives over 10 years. His company would extend cable by 1.46 miles to Medina City Hall in 2013. (City Hall currently gets its Internet by T-1 line.) Medina has 30 cable miles over which cable needs to be built.

Martinson commented, “Is it possible for you to negotiate something faster than 10 years?”

Jensen said that the cable business has changed over 30 years. Originally, cable carried only video and TV. Now his company offers Internet and phone services. This change makes it more economically feasible for Mediacom to extend service to areas where homes and businesses are further apart. So who gets cable infrastructure in lower density areas of Medina is a matter of economics for Mediacom.

Franchot, of the LMCC, said that if the LMCC can arrange for changing the threshold for extending fiber optic cable to a lower density of 15 homes per cable mile, Medina would be close to full build out.

He encouraged Medina to stay with the LMCC because it is one of Mediacom’s biggest customers. “We speak with a louder voice,” he said.

Meanwhile, Jensen said Medina could keep its franchise fees and use them for extending service, if the city deals directly with Mediacom.

Under the current franchise agreement, Medina turns franchise fees over to the LMCC, which uses the money for administration, operating a production studio, purchasing production equipment, producing programs and similar items.

The discussion ended with Mayor Crosby directing City Administrator Scott Johnson to set up additional meetings to look into the issue.