Metronet, the broadband company that announced it would make ultra high-speed service of 1 gig available across Palm Coast available by 2023, has now sealed similar agreements with Bunnell and Flagler Beach.
Those agreements were secured with a lot less fanfare, if any, than the one with Palm Coast, which the city announced in mid-December with the kind of enthusiasm reserved for municipalities landing a World Cup game or an Olympic event. In Bunnell, Eddie Massengale, the company’s director of business development, appeared before the City Commission on Monday to summarize the agreement he’d already worked out with the city manager. He has not appeared before the Flagler Beach City Commission, though that agreement was worked out behind the scenes. (See: “Palm Coast, Gig City: MetroNet Will Wire All Residential Neighborhoods With Fiber Optic By 2023, Rocketing Speeds.”)
In all three cities, Metronet, an Indiana-based company, pledges to wire almost every street in the next two years, making high-speed internet available to homes and businesses with speeds of up to 1 gigabyte, at $89 a month to start. That will make the trio of Flagler municipalities so-called gig cities. Current providers offer mostly 100 to 400 mbps, with 1 gig available only in select areas. Metronet’s service, which can potentially go up to 10 gigs, is “symmetrical,” meaning that upload and download speeds will be the same. Typically, upload speeds are slower than download speeds. The symmetrical system is increasingly necessary as zoom has become ubiquitous, and requires that symmetry to work best.
Massengale contacted Flagler Beach City Manager William Whitson by email on Jan. 6, seeking an introductory meeting and making Metronet’s standard pitch, but one attractive to local governments for obvious reasons: “Metronet privately funds all construction and business operations; we would not require any
investment from the City.” He directed him to the company’s more extensive web-based pitch.
“I absolutely Would like to meet with you,” an enthusiastic Whitson replied within minutes. “I have been keeping tabs on your activities and would
Enjoy the opportunity to meet to see where we could cooperate and assist you in your endeavors.” (Palm Coast had invited Commission Chairman Eric Cooley to the Palm Coast announcement in December, but somehow the invitation bounced.)
Massengale and Whitson met on January 11. The company’s goal with the cities is not to secure money, but to ensure that the cities are willing to cooperate with the sort of bulk permitting Metronet thrives on (rather than permitting construction street by street). “Once we have our design completed I will bring in our construction team to meet with you and your team to discuss permitting and timelines,” Massengale wrote Whitson after the meeting.
Not usually the one who presents to local governments, a slightly nervous Massengale then made a brief public presentation to the Bunnell City Commission Monday evening that summarized the usual pitch. Th company, he said, serves some 300,000 customers so far, improving remote learning, telemedicine and zoom. The fiber service is not shared by customers. “We’re not replacing your internet provider. This is another choice for the residents of Bunnell,” he said. He suggested that while less than 20 percent of communities have fiber, home values could increase by 3 to 8 percent with fiber.
He did not cite a source, and the claim needs considerable qualification: The 3 percent claim has been making the rounds of fiber sales pitches since 2015, when when the Fiber to the Home Council Americas, an industry group that advocates on behalf of fiber vendors and providers, issued a white paper that found that fiber may increase a home value by up to 3.0 percent. The study was not peer-reviewed, and was based on extrapolated numbers. As a Fiber Broadband Association release summarizing it described the method, “Using the National Broadband Map and a nationwide sample of real estate prices from 2011 to 2013, the study’s authors investigated the relationship between fiber-delivered Internet services and housing prices. The boost to the value of a typical home — $5,437 — is roughly equivalent to adding a fireplace, half of a bathroom or a quarter of a swimming pool to the home.”
Nevertheless, a link between better values and better internet appears to be as common now as a link between better fire services and slightly lower home insurance rates.
Metronet intends to have a local store serving alm Coast, Bunnell and Flagler Beach. It will not require contracts, and it will make less-than-gigabyte service available. The company will send out letters to residents who will be in the vicinity of construction, explaining what’s ahead, what a right-of-way is , when construction will start, and what number they may call if they have issues with construction. Seven days before construction, more signs will go up, including notices on mailboxes. “As we build it, we restore it,” Massengale said of construction, which is expected to start in spring. Expect to see Metronet trucks and employees, or contractors working with Metronet, by then.
Home owners associations are not part of the municipal approach: the company will meet with HOAs individually to establish the same process. Unincorporated Flagler County is not yet on Metronet’s map.
Bunnell city commissioners had no questions. But City Manager Alvin Jackson asked Massengale a question that often follows him wherever he makes presentations: the service is fine so far as it goes, but it may not be affordable to most. “That’s a concern, not having access to fiber” in low-income communities, Jackson said. Massengale said the service will be provided universally, to anyone that wants the service. He did not address how customers who cannot afford the service may access it. But there are government programs available that offer subsidies of up to $30 to qualifying low-in come residents.