Here’s how MetroNet is winning over mayors as fiber competition intensifies

MetroNet is hustling to make its mark in new fiber markets. Since May 2021, the operator has expanded its footprint from 11 to 14 states and is looking to add even more to the tally. Keith Leonhardt, MetroNet VP of Communications and Chief of Staff, told Fierce the operator’s focus on building quickly and considerately is helping it win over mayors and other local officials in an increasingly competitive fiber market.

The operator currently has construction underway in all 14 of the states where it operates, with work covering more than 90 cities. States with the most projects include North Carolina, Minnesota and Iowa.

“Those are the areas where we have perhaps established a foothold in a key initial market. What typically happens there is that opens up a lot of relationships in the adjacent communities,” Leonhardt explained when asked why work is concentrated in certain states. “We end up in conversations with mayors or municipal leadership that have the vision for their communities and don’t want to be left behind.”

But MetroNet isn’t just focused on building contiguous markets. Leonhardt said it is increasingly targeting underserved tier 2 cities across the country, with its market identification team already in conversations with officials in states outside of its current territory. Over the next year and beyond, MetroNet expects to add several new states to its construction list.

MetroNet closed a deal to merge with Vexus Fiber in June, meaning it already technically covers Louisiana and New Mexico. However, those areas and some markets in Texas are still served under the Vexus brand.

Though Leonhardt declined to share MetroNet’s current passings total and growth goal, a company representative told Fierce it has more than doubled its pass count in the last three years and expects to more than double it again within the next three years.

As it works to lock in new build targets, Leonhardt noted the conversations it is having with city officials behind the scenes have changed. While there was a time when MetroNet was entering cities as the only fiber provider, it’s increasingly going into markets where smaller regional fiber players are making inroads and city officials have more fiber options to choose from.

“It is different. We are seeing fiber over fiber more than we ever have before,” Leonhardt said of the competitive environment.

However, he added MetroNet’s experience, build speed, private funding and engagement with community members during the construction process are helping it get a leg up on the competition and win over mayors and municipal leaders. Leonhardt said the latter in particular is “a very important and subtle part of our construction process that other entrants struggle with.”

Specifically, Leonhardt said MetroNet makes a point of proactively communicating its build plans with residents and responding to their concerns within 24 hours. He added residents typically have questions about utility easements on their property and how construction might interfere with things like invisible fences, sump pumps or physical fencing in their yard. Restoration of disturbed plantings and landscaping is another big area of concern.

Leonhardt noted MetroNet proactively invites residents to mark out underground systems with flags the company provides and allows citizens to submit questions and concerns via an online ticketing system. It also pays for any restoration work itself, he said.

The idea of all of this, he said, is to make construction as painless as possible for both municipal officials and residents alike.

“The communication is the biggest component, to let people know we’re listening,” he concluded. “We share that reporting with the city so they can see that we’re responding. Because the last thing we want is the city to take calls about our construction activity, so this system prevents that.”