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Is new cable provider making its move?

September 26, 2018
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Staver

An Indiana-based cable company is seeking to connect with Rochester.

MetroNet has filed an application for franchise in the city, potentially setting up new competition for Charter Communications.

“We’ve never had another competitor want to come into the market,” said Rochester City Council President Randy Staver, noting he’s unsure why MetroNet is making a move.

MetroNet did not return calls for comment Monday, but the company submitted its official franchise application last week, which required a $20,000 commitment to cover potential city costs related to approving a new franchise.

The company currently holds 20 cable franchises in three states — Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky — with an application filed for a statewide franchise in Iowa, according to MetroNet’s application.

Council Member Michael Wojcik, who has long advocated increasing broadband internet options in the city, said he welcomes the interest from MetroNet, which is known for establishing high-speed fiber networks in the cities it serves.

In its application, MetroNet said it plans to install a similar service in Rochester, which would include the ability to provide internet service, while not governed by the existing cable franchise application and potential agreement.

The application states MetroNet plans to offer three tiers of cable service, with more than 227 video channels and 50 music channels, as well as on-demand services and specialty networks. Monthly rates for the tiers are expected to range from $16.57 to $83.04, depending on the cost associated with including local broadcast networks.

The application also indicates MetroNet would require a year of design and construction before offering the first service in Rochester. After that, the company states that experience shows a need for two years to expand service throughout the city, which is within the five years allowed under the state statute.

While he hadn’t seen a copy of the application Monday, Wojcik said his research indicates that MetroNet has the potential to offer higher speeds than seen through providers currently serving homes throughout Rochester.

The application comes weeks after Wojcik and Council Member Mark Bilderback asked the council to support looking into the potential for modifying the city’s cable franchise agreement to include potential requirements for broadband infrastructure.

At the time, Staver noted state statute requires a city to make terms of a new agreement equal to those of an existing agreement, which would limit the city’s options.

“There are clear limits on municipal authority, versus state of federal authority,” he said.

Wojcik refuted the stance, noting a change in the franchise agreement could be applied to both the existing and new provider, if MetroNet follows through on its application.

“I would say all of these things are permissive, and they are going on in the state somewhere,” he said, accusing Staver of appearing to speak “straight out of a cable lobbyist’s playbook.”

Staver took offense to the comment. “I’m not sure I care for that remark,” he said. “This is the research I did on my own.”

The council president acknowledged he has communicated with Patrick Haggerty, regional senior director and registered lobbyist for Charter, as well as a member of the Minnesota Cable Communications Association board, but said that was to confirm his reading of the statute.

Staver said the statute also indicates that MetroNet’s application would be approved if the company complies with existing state and federal rules.

“I think we are almost obligated to let them in as long as they abide by the rules in the market,” he said.

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