Minneapolis, Minn.— (June 4, 2008). One day before the city of Monticello secured funding to build a citywide fiber optic network, TDS Telecom filed a lawsuit challenging Monticello’s right to construct the network.
Christopher Mitchell, Director of the Telecommunications as Commons Initiative for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), was not surprised. “Cable and telephone companies routinely file these lawsuits against community owned networks,” says Mitchell. “They are not even attempting to win– they are intended to run up costs, disrupt business plans, and scare away other communities who are considering building their own networks.”
Mitchellthinks TDS Telecom’s chances of winning the lawsuit are negligible. State law is clear. Minnesota Statute 237.19 is a clear grant of authority to municipalities to build telecommunications networks.
Monticellovoters overwhelmingly approved the network last September with 74%supporting the measure. TDS offers broadband via DSL whereas the City plans to wire every home with fiber, allowing speeds several times faster than DSL.
Mitchell, a recognized leader in community broadband, is the author of Municipal Broadband: Demystifying Wireless and Fiber Optic Options, which examines the tradeoffs between different broadband technologies. He notes that local governments have long ensured their communities have clean water and safe roads. Increasingly, cities are treating fiber networks as basic infrastructure, since access to fast networks has transitioned from an amenity to a key to economic development and a high quality of life.
Mitchell believes all communities must have the option of building their own networks. “If we relied on the private sector to electrify the whole country, we would still be waiting,” says Mitchell. “These lawsuits are an abuse of the courts by private companies to protect their monopoly profits.”
Despite the lawsuit, Monticello has secured the necessary funding and plans to build the network after defeating this lawsuit.