Aug 18, 2021 - News

West Des Moines' fiber-optic fight

Illustration of the Google "G" logo turning into a stop sign.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Cable television provider Mediacom requested in court last week a halt in construction of an underground conduit network bringing high-speed internet to West Des Moines because of the size of the project's infrastructure.

Driving the news: Mediacom argued that the conduit being used to build the $43 million Google Fiber project is too small for other internet service providers and won't work with some of their technology.

Why it matters: Both West Des Moines and Mediacom argue that taxpayers could get fleeced, albeit for different reasons.

  • Failure to get the project right — or needlessly halting construction — could delay high-speed services and cost more money, they argue.

Catch up fast: West Des Moines last year agreed to invest up to $50 million in taxpayer money to build and maintain the network.

  • Through a partnership, Google Fiber will pay the city for access to the conduit. ($2.25 a month for each household connection, which the city anticipates is a minimum of $4.5 million over 20 years.)
  • Mediacom filed a lawsuit in January alleging the agreement with Google violates Iowa's urban renewal law and creates a de facto city utility that cannot be implemented without voter approval.

The other side: West Des Moines argued in court documents that the system is more than adequate and Mediacom's efforts are solely to prevent a competitor from entering the market. Other city points:

  • WDM took the lead to build the conduit system because a piecemeal approach via private companies was failing to provide the community with "digital equity."
  • Google will occupy 20% of the available conduit space and the system can be licensed to multiple broadband providers.
  • Delaying the project would needlessly put an additional financial burden on taxpayers.

What's next: A ruling on Mediacom's request for a court order to halt construction is expected in the coming weeks.


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