MANKATO — In March, internet provider MetroNet was promising big things.
“It will be a game-changer for Mankato,” Kathy Scheller, director of government affairs for MetroNet told the City Council.
In July, Mankato City Manager Susan Arntz reported to the council that MetroNet had dropped its plans to enter the local marketplace in response to Consolidated Communication’s decision to upgrade its service to fiber optic — a major upgrade from its historic use of copper wiring.
And now in September, MetroNet is back.
“We are really excited and re-energized to come to Mankato,” Scheller said at Monday night’s council meeting.
The Indiana-based company may not be the most decisive provider in the industry, but it is one of the fastest-growing — now serving more than 100 communities, including Rochester, in eight mostly Midwestern states.
In backing away from Mankato in July, MetroNet officials declined to comment on why. On Monday, Scheller said Arntz’s explanation was correct — MetroNet’s previous business model was to avoid building out a fiber-optic network when a competitor had beaten them to the punch.
New investors in the company have brought a more competitive approach.
“We believe we can make a real impact on the residents and businesses here,” Scheller said. “… We do extremely well in college towns.”
After addressing the council, she told The Free Press the company’s plans closely match what was proposed in March, when the council authorized city staff to negotiate a franchise agreement with MetroNet and prepare for the community-wide disruption resulting from crews installing the fiber cable along existing utility poles and underground.
In return for the construction headaches, the city was promised top-speed internet service and a new cable television option for virtually every part of the community — not just the lucrative higher-income neighborhoods. The company pledged to provide “blazing-fast symmetrical internet,” customer service that beats its peers, and no-contract pricing ranging from $50 to $90 monthly for internet depending on speed, and $24 to $92 for television depending on the number of channels.
On Monday, Scheller said the company’s latest plans for Mankato “are very similar to what we talked about last time.”
The company resumed discussions with the city last month, according to Arntz, who insisted that Scheller make MetroNet’s renewed interest in Mankato official in an appearance before the council. While the city was willing to absorb some expenses related to MetroNet’s project in return for providing competition in the marketplace, some costs are to be recouped through the franchise agreement.
When the company walked away last summer, the city was left holding the bill for legal advice and staff time expended. In fact, a draft franchise agreement was delivered by the city to MetroNet for review just days before their July decision to drop the project. Most of that work will carry over to the renewed project, as will the financial expectations.
“There is some expense they’re going to have to foot the bill for, and I assume they’re aware,” Arntz said.
Although it’s been a somewhat unusual courtship with MetroNet, Mankato now will potentially be able to offer a pair of fiber optic internet competitors to residents and businesses, each offering symmetrical gigabit-plus speeds — symmetrical meaning you can upload as fast as you download — that can be ramped up even higher in the future as technology demands.
“Options are always great,” Arntz said. “And I think both providers we have in the community aim to provide good service.”
Along with Consolidated’s announcement that it would be systematically upgrading to fiber-optic service across much of Mankato over the next two or three years, Charter Spectrum said in July that it would be doubling its download speeds to 200 mbps for existing customers. Spectrum was also planning to offer download speeds of up to 1 gigabit with its higher-priced internet packages.
And soon, apparently, will come another alternative. Scheller said she expects fiber-optic service to be available from MetroNet next year.
“I would think we’d get started in spring of 2022,” she said.