The FiberNet Monticello Advisory Board recently learned the coming months will be critical for the city-owned telecommunications and broadband provider.
Last October, the city council approved a professional services contract with Mark Pultusker and Cleveland-based FiberConnect for the management and operations of FiberNet.
That one-year contract began Oct. 1. The city has retained another Ohio company, Gigabit Squared LLC, as its broadband consultant.
Pultusker participated in the Jan. 15 advisory board meeting via teleconference, and during the 50-minute meeting, he provided an in-depth status report.
Pulling the system plug or having bondholders take over FiberNet is no longer an option, Pultusker said.
“Residents of the city need to understand that no matter what happens with the bondholders, the city remains committed to go forward with FiberNet,” he said.
Wells Fargo Bank N.A. notified bondholders in October 2012 it had commenced trust proceedings in Hennepin County District Court because the city had stopped its supplemental debt service payments on $26.4 million in FiberNet 2008 bonds.
Wells Fargo asked for an order instructing it not to make a Dec. 1, 2012 payment for $883,000 as well as future payments from surplus and reserve funds. The court granted the order on Nov. 15, 2012.
City Administrator Jeff O’Neill said during last week’s advisory board meeting city representatives and legal counsel will be listening carefully during a FiberNet bond meeting scheduled for this Friday.
“We are trying make FiberNet self-sufficient in everything it does, and have the employees take a more active role in the system as opposed to being part of a larger entity,” Pultusker added, referring to previously contracted management company Hiawatha Broadband Communications Inc., which parted ways with the city last summer.
“We are changing procedures and policies and philosophies they had, and we’re in the process of upgrading our billing system,” he said.
Pultusker said he doesn’t see any need to add employees until additional subscribers are signed.
A new marketing campaign is currently under development, he added.
“We are going to be a little more aggressive in how we do marketing. [Right now] we only market in Monticello. Obviously, our competitors [TDS and Charter] market to a larger area. We want to be more personal in our marketing.” FiberNet 2.0 is the generic name that’s being used for future enhancements, he said.
“We’re also developing a division within FiberNet that will exclusively deal with businesses and their particular needs,” Pultusker told the board. “I think a lot of the businesses in town look at FiberNet as a residential services company.”
This new entity, FNM Business, is scheduled to be introduced in late February.
The Monticello Chamber of Commerce & Industry will partner with the city, Pultusker said, addressing his tentative timeline for a business lunch rollout event.
Pultusker said he’s targeting wireless service providers as possible customers. He mentioned a recent conversation with Verizon regarding data center use.
“It’s a good sign someone as large at Verizon recognizes our data center as sufficient enough to provide service to their customers and as an equipment connection point,” he said. “Closing a deal [with them] will say a lot about FiberNet’s capabilities..” Pultusker said he’s talked with Sprint, T-Mobile and AT&T about city water tower antenna locations.
“The water tower by the data center is unique,” he said. “It gives us an opportunity to generate additional revenue.”
Pultusker said he’s also investigating the possibility of usitower to provide wireless access that would cover some of Monticello’s city parks.
In a few weeks, FiberNet’s video offerings will include AMC, Cartoon Network, BET and some MTV channels, Pultusker said.
“We’ve added the Fox Business channel to our base tier,” he said. “We’re getting to a point where we’ll be on equal if not higher footing than Charter or TDS in terms of offerings and line-up.”
According to Pultusker, FiberNet staff will be working to educate system subscribers to make them aware of the advantages having a set top box can bring.
“We didn’t do a very good job of explaining the $4.95 gateway fee,” he said. “The advantage of the box is it provides a true digital picture similar to a satellite.”
Pultusker said FiberNet is also looking at creating a sports tier for certain channel offerings as well as some additional Internet access to sports programming.
“Right now, our channels are sort of set up randomly,” he said. “I want to make it so CNN is next to MSNBC which is next to Fox News.”
According to Pultusker, the goal is creating neighborhoods of channels with similar content. “I’d like five or six channel groups,” he said. “That’s another initiative to look at.”
Contact Managing Editor Tim Hennagir at [email protected]