Right of Way has come up with Minnesota Broadband Task Force subcommittee on Coordination across Government Levels – both this and earlier iterations of the Task Force. It’s a wonky issue. As a broadband consumer, I’m not super interested in rights of way – but from what I’ve seen it’s a very big issue for the broadband providers – especially as they build out services. I think the most recent chapter in they in Lake County story helps shine a light on why rights of way is such a big deal to the providers and to the local governments.
Lake Connections is currently stringing aerial fiber along utility poles in Two Harbors for the project’s first phase. This fiber will be the backbone of the project, which will extend broadband service to residents in all of Lake County as well as parts of St. Louis County. But according to Lake County Commissioner Paul Bergman, the ownership of about 165 Two Harbors-based poles is in question.
Bergman informed the News-Chronicle last Monday that the county signed a pole attachment agreement with the city before stringing the fiber. The agreement, however, did not clearly state which poles the city owned and now Frontier is taking issue with the pole attachments.
“Lake County has placed fiber on Frontier-owned poles without submitting permit applications to Frontier,” said Kirk Lehman, general manager for Frontier Communications in northern Minnesota, in a prepared statement. He said Frontier has continuing property records that identify which poles they own, information which they provided to Lake Connections and the City of Two Harbors prior to construction.
But it seems that there are some questions about who is responsible for the poles…
Jeff Roiland, project manager for Lake Connections, said the city has been maintaining the poles in question for years and wonders why ownership is an issue. Two Harbors Mayor Randy Bolen conceded that the city has been maintaining and replacing the poles as needed, but he said the question of ownership never came up before the fiber project. Frontier said they didn’t authorize this city-performed maintenance on their poles.
So the plan seems to be to come up with an agreement…
Instead, city officials will set up a mediated meeting between Lake Connections and Frontier Communications.
At the action meeting Monday, the council approved a motion by Bolen to set up the meeting. In the motion, Bolen proposed that the meeting include County Administrator Matt Huddleston, Roiland, Klein, Overom, Kirk Lehman, Frontier Communications general manager for Northern Minnesota and another Frontier representative of Lehman’s choosing. Bolen said, with the exception of city attorney Overom, “attorneys and politicians” would not be permitted at the meeting.
If the issue isn’t resolved at the meeting, which Bolen said he hopes will happen within a week, the city will send a letter to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.
As hard as I’m sure this is for everyone involved – it’s a good example of why the Broadband Task Force is looking at these sorts of issues. A case where an ounce of prevention might be worth a pound of figuring out ownership after the fact.