MANKATO — An Indiana-based fiber optic internet and cable TV provider is planning to offer service to homes across Mankato, giving local customers an alternative to Spectrum, Consolidated Communications and satellite-based providers.
MetroNet, which is already in more than 100 communities in eight mostly midwestern states, is proposing “to lay their infrastructure in the right-of-way up and down the vast majority of every street in Mankato at a relatively rapid pace,” according to a memo to the Mankato City Council.
And service could be available for homeowners in some parts of Mankato as soon as the end of the year if council approval comes relatively soon, said Albert Brand, market manager for the company’s Minnesota operations.
“It definitely can be, as long as we get construction started sometime in spring and summer,” Brand said. “... We’ll turn it on in sections.”
MetroNet is also exploring bringing service to North Mankato, St. Peter and other communities in the region.
Headquartered in Evansville, Indiana, MetroNet has the foundation of a fiber optic network in place in Mankato after acquiring Owatonna-based Jaguar Communications last July.
In 2015, Jaguar — which had fiber optic lines from the southern metro area to Rochester to Albert Lea to the eastern edge of Mankato — partnered with the city of Mankato and Blue Earth County to install about seven miles of fiber optic communication infrastructure within the city. The conduits stretched stretched south along Highway 22, continued west along Stadium Road and ran to downtown along Stoltzman Road and Riverfront Drive. Combined with an existing fiber route along Marsh Street and Madison Avenue, the new fiber reduced the threat of disruptions to service for state and local government buildings across the city.
Jaguar agreed to do the work, valued at $450,000, at no cost while laying parallel fiber of its own. In return, the company was provided access to the government-owned fiber conduit along Marsh and Madison. With that backbone stretching across the city, Jaguar planned to eventually extend service to businesses and residential areas.
Much work would still be required to string fiber optic cables to every neighborhood in the city. For the most part, it will be placed on existing utility poles, although some underground cable will be required in places, according to Brand.
“Where we can go aerial, we will,” he said. “We can get our infrastructure up quicker.”
It took a little bit more than a year once construction began to get most of the city of Rochester connected, a process MetroNet is just finishing, according to Brand.
Ensuring the work is done properly with minimal disruption to the public right-of-way is the city’s top concern, City Manager Susan Arntz told the council. That will mean countless inspections which MetroNet will have to finance through city fees.
“Really managing the right of way and their impact in the community is key,” Arntz said.
Council member Karen Foreman also asked city staff to do research on MetroNet’s reputation in communities it already serves, including customer satisfaction, pricing and how much initial low-price offers to subscribers escalate over time.
“In essence, we’re making a decision for the community about service choices,” Foreman said, adding she’s pleased the city’s residents may be getting a new alternative for television and internet service. “I appreciate the opportunity to have some competition come in. That will be nice.”
Brand said customer satisfaction is crucial for the relatively small company even as it works to rapidly expand and that another pillar is to make internet service so reliable and easy to use that customers don’t have to think about it.
In announcing its purchase of Jaguar last summer, MetroNet called the acquisition “a perfect fit” with the company’s plans to grow in Minnesota, joining existing service in Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Florida.
“The combination of the two companies allows MetroNet to expand its ultra-high-speed fiber optic footprint to residential and business customers across the Midwest,” the company announced on July 2. “MetroNet is expecting to invest an additional $150 million or more in growing the Minnesota market to expand services to additional communities and neighborhoods.”
A week later, Jaguar/MetroNet indicated interest in providing cable TV and internet service in North Mankato. And in late November, MetroNet announced that it was beginning construction to bring service to St. Peter and the Le Sueur County communities of Le Center, Le Sueur, Montgomery, Cleveland and Waterville. The latter project was boosted by the use of COVID-19 relief funding through the CARES Act.