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 to the lawsuit. TDS never had a good case, using the courts to delay the City's network by some 362 days or so. However TDS had to post a $2.5 million surety bond at the beginning to ensure it would be able to pay in the event that they lost and Monticello can prove damages. Additionally, TDS still has crafty lawyers that will undoubtedly try again to disrupt the City's network using any means necessary.
Monticello's elected officials and city staff have shown considerable courage throughout this ordeal - refusing to be bullied by their incumbent. Others may have been content to back off once TDS actually began investing in their City (though incumbents have frequently made promises under the threat of competition that they never made good on). It certainly would have been the easier path. But they held strong, backed by the 74% positive vote on the referendum to build the network.
Thanks to them, all Minnesota communities now have a court precedent to strengthen their resolve if they decide a publicly owned broadband network is necessary for their vitality in the 21st century.
TDS used the courts to blunt competition, creating an entire year they could use to entrench themselves. Monticello has lost a year and will now have to modify its business plan in light of the changed market. At least the citizens of Monticello will soon have a choice - the publicly owned FiberNet Monticello or a beefed-up TDS network at discounted prices (which would not have existed absent FiberNet Monticello).
At a recent Martinsville City Council meeting, the council offered unanimous support for a phased expansion of the city’s Municipal Internet Network (MiNet). What exactly the expansion will look like, and how it will be funded, very much remain a work in progress. Despite having been first constructed in the 1990s, Martinsville’s MiNet only has about 376 customers in a city of nearly 14,000 residents. There’s roughly 20 users currently on a multi-month waiting list, eager to get access to affordable fiber at speeds up to a gigabit per second (Gbps).
Ottawa County, Michigan officials say they’ve struck a new public private partnership (PPP) with 123Net on a $25 million fiber deployment that aims to bring more uniform – and affordable – broadband access to Michigan’s seventh largest county by population.
Golden, Colorado has struck a new right-of-way agreement with Google Fiber that should expedite the competitive delivery of affordable fiber to the city of 20,000. The deal gives Google Fiber non-exclusive access to public right-of-way to build a commercial broadband network, though it delivers no guarantee of uniform access across the entire city.
Eagle, Idaho is preparing to connect the first of the city’s 32,000 residents to a new, municipally-owned open access fiber network. The project, which the city says will take between five to 10 years to complete, is being heavily funded by federal grants, and aims to meaningfully boost broadband competition – and affordable access – citywide.
Colorado has long been home to some of the most innovative municipal broadband projects in the country. It’s now being buoyed by a massive new wave of state grants that should further expand affordable broadband to long-neglected parts of the state. Larimer County in particular – home of some of the most disruptive municipal broadband operations in the country – got a major infusion of new funding for several community-owned providers working to bridge the digital divide.
Shining a light on bond-backed municipal broadband projects is the recent announcement that ECFiber, Vermont's first Communications Union District (CUD), obtained a BB rating from Standard & Poor Global, the nation’s preeminent credit rating agency. In what ECFiber officials describe as "a historic moment,” the bond rating will allow ECFiber to pay lower borrowing costs to complete a network expansion project now underway.