The Evansville-based company that Lexington says will provide high-speed internet and cable competition throughout the city has been under scrutiny by Indiana utility regulators this year after its subcontractors ruptured more than 20 gas lines, documents show.
MetroNet, which is expected to be awarded a cable franchise agreement in Lexington on Thursday, was the subject of an investigation by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission for using subcontractors not registered to do business in Indiana to bury fiber-optic cable.
The commission found that five MetroNet subcontractors were not registered with the Secretary of State in Indiana, which is required. Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill filed a lawsuit against those contractors in late October, and wants a judge to fine the companies for failing to register to do business in the state.
Of the 20 gas line ruptures under investigation, the commission found that MetroNet subcontractors did not follow proper digging procedures in 10 of them. In six cases, the gas utility did not properly mark the gas lines. In four cases, there was no fault on the part of the gas company or MetroNet subcontractors.
The commission also recommended that cities outside Indianapolis, where MetroNet was burying fiber-optic cable, strengthen ordinances to require MetroNet and its subcontractors to obtain additional training before allowing them to continue digging, among other recommendations.
The cities of Carmel and Fishers issued stop-work orders to MetroNet this summer after its subcontractors ruptured multiple gas lines. A third Hamilton County city, Westfield, also issued a stop-work order in the fall.
MetroNet officials said they made changes after the commission’s report was released. Some of those changes include hiring a new director of safety and quality assurance, implementing stiffer safety guidelines for MetroNet subcontractors and requiring more documentation about safety procedures internally and for subcontractors.
“In Indiana, our contractors were fully qualified and experienced at underground utility construction. They did, however, neglect to file a business registration with the Indiana Secretary of State’s office,” said Keith Leonhardt, a spokesman for MetroNet. “Notably, MetroNet was not the subject of any inquiry by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission or the Indiana Attorney General’s office.”
Leonhardt said the company hopes to restart work in the northern Indianapolis suburbs soon.
“We have already resumed aerial work in Fishers and expect to resume underground construction in both markets soon,” Leonhardt said.
Lexington officials said there are protections in its cable franchise agreement and in its right-of-ways ordinances that ensure the same problems will not be duplicated in Lexington. City officials said MetroNet told the city of the issues in Indiana.
“There are many protections that exist in our franchise agreement,” said Scott Shapiro, the city’s chief innovation officer who has helped spearhead bringing MetroNet to Lexington. The agreement requires the company to be bonded and it must show it is properly insured.
Moreover, Indiana cities can not regulate private utilities in the public right-of-way. The city of Lexington does. Any utility that works in the public right-of-way must comply with those regulations.
MetroNet has previously said it will use Kentucky Utilities’ poles for its fiber-optic network and that few lines will have to be buried. Regardless, utility poles are in the public right-of-way, said Derek Paulsen, the city’s planning commissioner.
Utility subcontractors must be permitted by the city to work in the right-of-way, Paulsen said. Moreover, after the work is completed, the city inspects it, he said.
MetroNet’s 10-year franchise agreement is expected to be approved by the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council on Thursday. MetroNet officials have said if the weather cooperates, work could start as early as January. It will take between three to four years to build the entire network.
MetroNet has pledged to spend at least $70 million to provide fiber optic wiring that will allow it to offer Gigabit internet speeds, which is equivalent to moving data at 1,000 megabits per second. Lexington’s average internet speed is 16.2 megabits per second, according to some studies.