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Itemizer-Observer: The house that two cities built

Reprinted from the Polk County Itemizer-Observer

According to people who were involved in city leadership at the time, high-speed internet services were at least a decade away from coming to the rural cities of Monmouth and Independence.

The big name providers told councilors, mayors and managers that residents of these cities would not have the ability to keep up with the fast-moving technology any quicker than that.

The city leaders of Monmouth and Independence decided that wasn’t good enough. They joined forces – something these two cities don’t do often – and took out a loan to build a fiber network for residents and businesses. They financed the Monmouth Independence Network, meant to provide cable services, telephone and internet.

At first, they put a limit on the amount of debt they could take out for Minet. Within weeks, they increased that number. Now, no mention of a debt ceiling exists in the intergovernmental agreement that rules over Minet.

Today’s city leaders tout that Minet is a “strong” and “vibrant” company, that it’s viable. It can cover its operating costs. It can cover capital improvements. It just can’t cover the debt. City leaders say it was the cities who took out that debt – and frankly, the debt belongs to the cities.

We’ve heard this story from city leaders before. A story printed in the Itemizer-Observer in 2010 said that Minet can cover all its operating costs and capital purchases, but not the debt, which was $20 million at the time. Eight years later, the debt is $27 million.

The debt is not decreasing. The story is the same. And now the governmental company is seeking to expand.

Perhaps this time more customers will mean more revenue to pay off debts and hold Minet accountable for the money taken out on its behalf. But history has not shown that to be the case as it grew within the boundaries of Monmouth and Independence. What makes city leaders confident that this time it will be different?

Meanwhile, the residents of Monmouth and Independence – whether they use Minet’s services or not – are stuck footing the bill for Minet’s infrastructure through power or water bills.

Minet has shown to be a good community partner in Monmouth and Independence. Advocates argue that, had the cities not built the company, residents of the two towns may still be waiting for high-speed internet access, or be charged higher rates for access.

That may be true. We would like to see a more honest approach. We disagree that a company is viable and strong and vibrant when it can’t pay the mortgage on its mansion. We would like to see city leaders start to take a realistic view and stop being short-sighted. We don’t think that government leaders have been very good decision makers when it comes to running a telephone, cable and internet company.

It’s time to rethink Minet. It’s time to take another look at the intergovernmental agreement. It’s been 14 years since the public has been asked about the company. It’s time to take the conversation out of the Minet board room and into town halls. It’s time to share the five-year plan to success and let residents decide if it’s worthwhile to continue.

Residents in Monmouth and Independence are paying Minet’s mortgage. They should have a say in how the house is run.


Reprinted from the Polk County Itemizer-Observer at:

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