Guest Commentary: Mailings have muddled messageThe Minnesota Cable Communications Association (MCCA), whose current President is Bill Jensen of Mediacom, is behind a public relations campaign to discredit Lake County’s fiber-optic project.
By: Jeff Roiland, Project Manager, Lake Connections, Lake County News Chronicle
The Minnesota Cable Communications Association (MCCA), whose current President is Bill Jensen of Mediacom, is behind a public relations campaign to discredit Lake County’s fiber-optic project. The association is spending tens-of-thousands of dollars to disseminate misleading and inaccurate information, including the cost of the program and source of funding.
The membership of MCCA includes Mediacom, Comcast and Midcontinent Cable – giant corporations (none of which are headquartered in Minnesota). The MCCA’s goal appears to be to prevent Minnesota’s rural citizens from receiving the benefits of advanced communications services such as High Speed Internet.
For years, the cable companies have neglected and ignored small towns and rural areas. According to MCCA’s website www.mncca.com, only 60% of the homes in Minnesota are on the cable network. That means 40% of homes cannot receive any services from any cable provider. This figure includes the major cities, such as Duluth, Minneapolis, and St. Paul, overstating the true reach of cable across the state. Mediacom has refused to extend their network to 95% of the geography in Lake County.
Lake County did not initiate the fiber project to compete with cable television companies. Its sole purpose is to bring broadband to area residents and businesses without it and with no prospects of receiving it. The cable television providers have never proposed a single solution to extend broadband to homes and businesses outside their existing footprints.
In its propaganda, MCCA cites the Lake County fiber project as costing $70 million. In fact, the amount is $66.5 million – a small distinction, but an indication of MCCA’s willingness to exaggerate and misrepresent the facts. MCCA neglects to mention that the project is made possible by a $66.5 million stimulus award from the Broadband Initiatives Program of the federal government. Lake County received one of the largest awards in the country, underscoring the need for broadband in the region. About $10 million of the award is an outright grant, and the rest is a low-interest loan. Lake County is investing $3.5 million in the project – about 5% of the total and an amazingly small amount, given the scope and benefits it will bring. The loan will be repaid with revenues generated by the broadband network. The $3.5 million County investment is in line with other infrastructure expenditures, such as roads and waterworks. Broadband is a now a critical infrastructure component for communications and economic development.
Although all communications providers were invited to apply for this federal funding, none of the cable companies participated. They ignored the opportunity to bring broadband to all residents.
Lake County is in compliance with all state and federal telecom regulations. MCCA claims Lake County to be in violation of state statute 237, which prohibits government agencies from offering local phone service without a public vote. Again, MCCA is misrepresenting the facts. Lake County is not required, under any law, to hold a referendum in order to build a broadband network. Lake County will only offer advanced broadband services. A third party will be providing voice services on Lake County’s network.
In order to connect to the world, Lake County fiber will run through parts of St. Louis County. This will allow some St. Louis County residents and businesses to receive services from the broadband network. However, St. Louis County is not an investor in the project and has no ownership stake. Whereas its citizens will benefit from the network, Lake County will retain all of the income or margins.
It is perplexing and ironic as to why MCCA is targeting Lake County. The cable network only runs through a fraction of the geography, and the cable providers have had years to come up with solutions to serve rural residents. Mediacom and Midcontinent Cable are giant, conglomerate businesses with millions of customers nationwide, but they are hiding their involvement in this negative campaign under the Minnesota Cable Communications Association. Their obsession with the Northeast corner of Minnesota and its unserved rural residents and businesses makes it obvious they do not want to see advanced broadband services in this region.
Questions regarding Lake Connections should be directed to Jeff Roiland, Project Manager, at email@example.com.