BATAVIA – The city of Batavia has suspended issuing installation permits for fiber optic cable provider MetroNet.
City officials are citing a litany of problems, including cuts in utility and communications services, gas line ruptures and damage to driveways and street pavement.
They further are faulting MetroNet’s installation contractors for using unmarked vehicles and workers who lack identification badges.
“They just aren’t supervising the work closely enough,” Batavia Building Commissioner Jeff Albertson said. “They need to step up and do things right.”
Indiana-based MetroNet has been installing its fiber optic cable network in Batavia for about a year and a half, but it has only been in the last four or five months that problems have surfaced, Albertson said.
MetroNet will be allowed to continue work in areas for which it already has city construction permits, City Administrator Laura Newman said.
However, no further permits will be issued until MetroNet officials appear before the Batavia City Council and demonstrate that the problems will be solved, Newman said.
“They need to come to Batavia and explain themselves,” 3rd Ward Alderman Dan Chanzit said during a recent committee meeting.
MetroNet provides customers with high-speed Internet, cable television and landline telephone service, competing with established providers AT&T and Comcast.
Albertson said that MetroNet’s installation work in Batavia is about 60 to 70 percent complete.
MetroNet is attaching its fiber optic cables to utility poles in some neighborhoods, and installs them underground in those areas where the power lines are buried.
For the underground lines MetroNet uses a technique called directional boring, which minimizes the need for excavation.
A receiving pit is dug in the public right-of-way, and then equipment bores horizontally along the utility line for up to 500 feet before digging another pit.
However, the installation workers have cut into underground utility lines in recent months.
There have been two gas line ruptures, one on Ridgelawn Trail off of Hart Road, the other on Marshall Court just off South Forest Avenue, Albertson said.
There also have been cuts to electrical service and, ironically, cable lines for MetroNet’s competitors.
Second Ward Alderman Alan Wolff said that the Comcast service to his home was cut by a MetroNet contractor crew.
Wolff also said piles of coiled cable have been sitting at the corner of South Harrison and Main Streets for quite some time.
“They’ve got some explaining to do,” Wolff said.
Adding to the problems is that MetroNet contractor crews, though legally working on utility easements, are turning up without identification in residents’ property, including backyards.
Exacerbating the problem, Mayor Jeff Schielke said, is that when the homeowner confronts the contract workers to learn what they are doing, the workers often are unable to speak English.
In addition to cutting utility lines, MetroNet contractors have damaged driveways and in one case buckled street pavement, Albertson said.
Most recently, there have been problems in the Crestview Meadows neighborhood on the northwest side of the city, including Blackhawk Drive, North Avenue and Carriage Drive, city officials said.
The result has been a flood of complaints to Batavia City Hall.
On Sept. 5, 2017, the city approved a franchise agreement with MetroNet.
Aldermen were assured by MetroNet business development manager Kathy Scheller that the company would take care not to alienate potential customers during installation of its network.
City officials were confident that there would be no problems, and pointed to the company’s good track record in other Illinois communities.
However, earlier that same year in MetroNet’s home state of Indiana, contractors working for MetroNet ruptured gas lines in three adjacent communities located north of Indianapolis, sparking an investigation by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission.
The Kane County Chronicle sent an email to Scheller seeking comment on the recent problems in Batavia, following up with a telephone call to MetroNet’s Evansville headquarters. But two days after the first message had been sent, there was still no reply.
Batavia officials said MetroNet has been informed of the construction permit suspension and that a meeting is expected soon.
MetroNet ruptured two gas lines in Geneva in 2018, but the city said the incidents were minor.