When the 12,000 person city of Monticello, Minnesota voted overwhelmingly to put in a city-owned and -operated fiber-optic network that would link up all homes and business to a fast Internet pipe, the local telco sued to stop them. Wednesday, District Court Judge Jonathan Jasper dismissed the suit with prejudice after finding that the city was well within its rights to build the network by issuing municipal bonds. In this case, however, a total loss for the telco might actually turn out to be a perverse sort of victory.
The judge’s ruling, a copy of which was seen by Ars Technica, is noteworthy for two things: (1) the judge’s complete dismissal of Bridgewater Telephone Company’s complaint and (2) his obvious anger at the underfunding of Minnesota’s state courts. Indeed, the longest footnote in the opinion is an extended jeremiad about how much work judges are under and why it took so long to decide this case, even going so far as to cite approvingly a newspaper editorial backing more funds for the court.
Bridgewater’s basic complaint was that cities in Minnesota are not allowed to use bonds in order to offer data services to residents, because they lack the necessary authority. State statute says that such bonds may be issued for a host of projects (sewers, stadia, playgrounds, and “homes for aged,” among others), and they can more generally be used to fund “other public conveniences.” But is Internet access a “public convenience”?