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September 09, 2014
Des Moines Business

Why isn\'t CenturyLink bringing gigabit internet to Des Moines?

by JOE GARDYASZ, Senior Staff Writer

With the recent announcement from CenturyLink about the new Gigabit Internet service it has launched in 16 metro areas it serves - including the Twin Cities, Omaha and Sioux Falls - I couldn’t help but wonder about Greater Des Moines’ absence from the list. So I called David Slinker, CenturyLink’s local press contact, for an update.

Though Des Moines wasn’t on the initial group of cities announced on Aug. 8, many parts of the metro just recently got higher speed service, he said. In just the past few weeks CenturyLink has rolled out its first 100-megabyte Fiber to Home technology in several new housing developments in Greater Des Moines, including some areas of downtown Des Moines, he said. Other areas that have gotten the 100 MB service include portions of Beaverdale, the Riverbend neighborhood, some East Des Moines neighborhoods as well as Altoona, Waukee and West Des Moines, Slinker said.

CenturyLink’s Fiber to Home technology, which provides symmetrical download and upload speeds of 100 megabytes, is now the company’s preferred technology when installing fiber to new subdivisions. That same infrastructure will make it possible to upgrade those areas to Gigabit service as well, he said.

One gigabit downloads, which are about 100 times faster than the average download speed of 10 Mbps, can be a significant productivity booster for businesses and could outperform many basic business broadband providers, CenturyLink said in a release.

Mediacom Communications Corp., meanwhile, has more than 100 business customers in over 500 locations across Iowa that are using its Gigabit+ service, which provides speeds of between one and 10 Gigabits, Kristi Salmon, a company spokesperson, told me. “This is nothing new to us,” she said. Among those business customers are 12 healthcare institutions and 19 school districts, colleges or universities with multiple locations per account. Among the Central Iowa cities with businesses using the service are Altoona, Ames, Carlisle, Des Moines, Urbandale, West Des Moines and Windsor Heights, according to a list she provided. 

The company has added more than 500 route miles of fiber optic cable in the state in just the past year and currently has 5,214 route miles of fiber in service statewide, Salmon said.  “The breadth of fiber we have in Iowa is very vast,” she said. “Of the 22 states we serve, Iowa has the most fiber.”

Mediacom is not offering Gigabit+ service to residential customers, because even the most serious data  users would come nowhere near using that type of capacity, Salmon said.

Because fiber optic cable is easily scalable to higher speeds, fiber access should be a high priority for cities, she said. Mediacom recently posted a documentary about its work with the city of Grimes.

When CenturyLink considers where it will extend its Gigabit service to communities, the company looks for communities that are “eager to partner with CenturyLink,” Slinker said. 

That said, the City of Des Moines’ proposed right-of-way fee increase for utility companies could hinder upgrades to Internet speeds here, Slinker said. The city is considering a hike to the fee, which is paid by utilities that are not subject to the franchise fee for having equipment in the public right of way. CenturyLink pays for approximately 4.1 million feet of fiber optic cable in the public right of way within the city. 

"If the cost doing business in Des Moines becomes more than other cities, it just makes better business sense (to expand capabilities such as Gigabit Internet service) where they can make that public-private partnership,” he said.