city of Monticello, MN can proceed with its fiber rollout

TDS Telecom lost its lawsuit against the city of Monticello, MN.

Some background: citizens of Monticello approved in a referendum a plan to roll out a city-owned fiber network to provide cheap and fast internet access.

Immediately after the referendum the city was sued by Bridgewater, the local incumbent telco. Bridgewater and its parent TDS telecom challenged the city’s right to fund a fiber network with municipal bonds, citing ‘concern about wasteful spending’.

That was of course a pretext – what they did not want was competition. Thankfully Bridgewater lost the suit today, but they may have stalled the city enough to ‘win’ in the end anyway. Right after it filed suit – not coincidentally – Bridgewater started a fiber rollout of its own in Monticello. While the city could not spend bond money to build out the network and thus had to stall the rollout to residential neighborhoods, Bridgewater has already laid 20 out of a planned 100 miles of fiber.

So – now the city-owned network will have to compete with the Bridgewater network – and the latter can subsidize its network with income from neighboring communities.

On the upside – Bridgewater needs to make money, unlike the city. Those fat profit margines need to come from somewhere. And if I were a resident of Monticello, I know I wouldn’t be willing to give them any money, not after pulling this kind of stunt. Also, as the Ars article says, this decision is a ‘big green light’ for other communities in Minnesota that want to roll out their own network.

This kind of telco behavior makes me angry. If the telcos spent half the money they waste on anti-competitive behavior and lawsuits on actually upgrading and building out modern networks, this country wouldn’t be the overpriced broadband backwater it is. I hope many more cities start rolling out their own fiber infrastructure. It’s time for more competition – that’s the only way we are going to get decent and affordable broadband in the US of A.

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