FRANKLIN TOWNSHIP, MN – It was a standing-room-only crowd of about 80 people as Frontier Communications representatives visited the Feb. 6 Franklin Township Board meeting to discuss internet service.
Frontier Area General Manager George Meskowski said in his opening remarks that Frontier had applied for Connect America Funds for areas within Franklin Township but the requests were denied because, according to the Federal Communications Commission, Charter Communications and Broadband Corp. provide 10-megabit internet speed. Residents contested that other options are available where they live.
Frontier Director of Engineering Mark Shannon estimated that a mile of fiber for internet service costs $30,000 to $35,000, plus the cost of electronics in the Frontier office.
Frontier will be pursuing another funding source, Meskowski said.
“The governor made some money available through DEED (Department of Employment and Economic Development) . . . with matching funds from the counties,” Meskowski said.
Supervisor Bill McMullen said, “I was hoping for more information of what Frontier’s plan is without CAF or DEED.”
“When you talk about the return on investment, if you spend $35,000 per mile for one customer, how do you get that back?” Meskowski said.
He also noted that keeping up with demand is difficult.
“Consumption of internet speeds is growing by leaps and bounds,” Meskowski said. “There’s places where we’ve been able to go in and build out to again, and the consumption is almost maxing that out. You have Netflix and everyone streaming everything. On average, there’s six connected devices in every home . . . If you have a lot of stuff connected, maybe make decisions on what you want connected all the time, because that’s definitely drawing down the bandwidth we deliver.”
Chair DeWayne Bauman said that township residents have not been receiving the type of service they are paying for.
Meskowski said internet speed is dependent on the proximity to Frontier’s equipment.
“When you sign up for service with us, it’s always an up-to speed,” Meskowski said. “The way our technology works is the high-speed internet service, the farther out from the device you get, the signal starts to drop. The farther out you live, the slower the speed will be.”
Shannon added that the maximum distance for good internet speed is about 8,500 feet.
Bauman said his internet was down for a month and a half during the summer months.
“Most of these people have the same or similar stories,” Bauman said. “They’re down for a month. Is that OK?”
“No, that’s not OK,” Meskowski said. “That’s a service-level question. That’s a totally different discussion we need to have. I thought we were talking just about speed. If we’re having issues of it being down, we need to look at that.”
Baumman said people would be happy as long as the internet service works and asked Meskowski to address why it continues to fail.
“That I’ll have to find out,” Meskowski said to a chorus of groans.
Residents were asked to write down their phone numbers and Meskowski said he would look into their service issues and return to the township for the Monday, March 6, meeting.
Stan Stanley, who oversees Frontier technicians, addressed service concerns.
“I’m hearing things I was not aware of,” Stanley said. “I do not go looking at your services. I wait for you to call us. We monitor nodes, not individual services. The only way I can know is if I have trouble tickets. I do review them. I crunch the data and try to understand what’s going on . . . I’m new to this territory. We’ve turned the numbers around within 90 days regarding how long it takes us to get to you.”
Several residents commended the technicians for the work they do, but were not as positive about customer service representatives.
“This is an indictment against your customer service department that it’s come to this,” Luke Bauman said.
“Maybe I’m just blind to it,” Meskowski said.
He offered to help customers work through service issues, as well as reviewing accounts to see if customers could get the same internet speeds with a less expensive package, as was the case for one customer who said his home consistently receives 12-megabit speed despite paying for up to 40-megabit speed.
Township Clerk Stephanie Russek summarized what Meskowski said he would do.
“You said you would look into how to reposition packages to save money, look into bad equipment, look into DEED, and help with the FCC,” Russek said, and Meskowski agreed with that summary.
Russek also noted that Rep. Joe McDonald helped secure DEED funds for broadband in Annandale and has pledged to help Franklin Township, as well.
Meskowski said it is important for local residents, local government representatives, and legislators to work together to apply and lobby for such funds.
Russek encouraged residents to contact her if interested in serving on a resident steering committee regarding internet service.
Odds and ends
In other business, the board:
• approved a quote of $4.58 per column inch from Delano Herald Journal to be the official legal newspaper of the township and a quote of $557 plus postage for 1,185 recycling calendars to be produced by Herald Journal. No other bids were received and it was noted that the rates had not increased from the previous year.
• heard from McMullen that the township may be eligible for state grant funds for 40th Street because it is an access road for a park. It was noted that applying for funding would likely delay the project a year.
• detailed some of the differences between Franklin Township’s solar ordinance and the county’s ordinance. Bauman said the township will not allow solar projects on the top four categories of farmland; the township’s setbacks are 300 feet, compared to 100 feet for the county; the township is requiring all wires to be underground and not on poles; and the township will not allow more than three acres or 40 to 45 percent of the property – whichever is less – to be clear cut.
• approved soliciting bids for magnesium chloride application for dust control, which is considered more environmentally friendly.