Minnetonka's US Internet is gradually installing fiber across Minneapolis, bringing cheap and wicked fast connections to more neighborhoods of its choosing every year.
Powderhorn Park, however, hasn't managed to attract USI so far, and the company says there are no plans in the foreseeable future to provide service to the city's highest concentration of low-income, Hispanic families.
Minnesota State Demographic Center
USI offers a nice, transparent map of the neighborhoods first in line to get fiber -- mostly the south and southwestern parts of the city. It has shared its plans with the Southwest Journal to also move on to Loring Park, the North Loop, and parts of Ward 12.
However, USI doesn't have plans to expand fiber to Powderhorn Park, according to spokeswoman Liz Aaser, because USI has just two central offices, located in Whittier and Tangletown, to launch fiber into the streets.
"Where the current central offices are located, there isn't a way for us to get fiber to your neighborhood. We would need another central office and purchasing another commercial space that can be used as a central office is up to our owners," Aaser says. "I'm not sure what their future plans are for that."
But considering that Powderhorn Park is bounded in every direction by areas that do have fiber, it's more likely that more variables are in play than just the location of USI's existing offices.
Otto Doll, chief information officer of the city of Minneapolis, says that although the city doesn't have any enforcement authority over where USI builds (regulation of telecommunications companies falls to the Federal Communications Commission), he tries to "encourage them to consider not skipping ... to cover the city in a better way than what they seem to want to do."
Based on pure observation, Doll says, the city senses that USI's fiber buildout is guided by a couple of things. First, they have a tendency to skip streets with concrete -- versus lawn -- boulevards because it could cost them more money to reconstruct those streets. Second, they're looking for communities that they feel will have enough money to pay their rates and give them a proper return on their investment.
"I continue to try to convince them that they need to cover the entire city," Doll says, "and we prefer that they not do it strictly by business dynamics as to where they go first. But you can see when you look at their maps, where they've been and where they talked to, where they're going next."
USI vice president Travis Carter, who frequently speaks for the company, did not respond to explain the decision-making process.
However, Ward 9 city councilmember Alondra Cano, who represents Powderhorn Park, agrees that there could be a point to USI's reservations for expanding fiber to the neighborhood.
"Because for the most part, low income folks and people of color, including indigenous people, use their mobile devices for internet access and social media," she says. "Many of them don't have the money to pay for internet access at home and the phone and so they kind of have to choose."
Cano says her office hasn't received many constituent complaints, compared to the volume of calls she receives about raising the wage, the environmental, crime, safety, and prostitution.
But it could be that people just don't know what they're missing.
Or it could be a situation where low-income young people would immediately jump on board if fiber were introduced, but families may take some time to move away from cable.
Cano says she wants to know how USI decides who would make a good subscriber base, and whether that decision is informed by good market analysis or by assumptions about groups of people that are little more than just that.
"We would need to talk to [people in the ward] and see if this is something they would want ... to move forward on racial equity in the technological field, especially as we see computer usage and Internet access dominate more and more of our everyday lives," she says.
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