Minet board should reconsider options

The board of directors of Monmouth Independence Networks (Minet) decided Thursday to indefinitely table an idea of the telecommunications company providing free WiFi access to residents and visitors of both cities in exchange for possible debt relief from the two cities.

Board president Scott McClure said he didn’t want Minet Executive Director Don Patten to put any more time into looking at the details: how much it would cost Minet, how much debt relief they would request from the cities, or how much time and manpower it would take, or whether grants are available to help build the system.

He implied that it would be a waste of Patten’s time to continue to look into it, comparing it to if he suggested to the Monmouth City Council that they sell Main Street Park.

His reasoning didn’t seem to come from the debt forgiveness, but from a fear that people would drop their Internet services from Minet and just use free WiFi.

It’s great for using a cellphone or other devices, because it can help you save on data. It’s also great for accessing the Internet in the park or at a coffee shop. But it’s generally spotty. It’s not secure. It’s is no replacement for secure data access.

As for the debt forgiveness Patten suggests in exchange for providing such a service, this is a matter that should be discussed by the councils and, more importantly, the citizens — and it should be something Minet’s board, who should be working on behalf of the company, is interested in.

Ratepayers of Monmouth and Independence already contribute to the debt that was incurred to help build Minet. The two cities are the ones who took out the money to build the company, and it is the cities’ responsibilities to pay it back.

We realize that the idea was that Minet would one day be able to afford its operating costs and pay back the $25 million in debt, but the fact is that that isn’t happening. In December, the two cities covered 80 percent of Minet’s debt payment.

That means the power customers in Monmouth and the water customers in Independence paid 80 percent of Minet’s debt in December.

We think it is worth investigating. We think the board of Minet should pass this one over to the people and the city councils and let them decide: is free WiFi worth taking some of the pressure off Minet to repay the millions of dollars the cities took out to build them?

It has been a long time — roughly a decade — since anyone has asked the public what they think about Minet. The least they could do is ask now.


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