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March 04, 2017
Ames Tribune

Mediacom to install fiber optic internet downtown

by Dan Mika

Internet provider Mediacom is preparing to install fiber optic internet access for more than 100 businesses in the Ames downtown district this spring.

Tom Larsen, Mediacom senior vice president for government and public relations, said the project would reach 62 buildings and 162 businesses downtown. The company is offering the fiber hookups free of charge, he said.

The approximate range of the project is Sixth Street and Lincoln Way as the north and south border, with Grand Avenue and Duff Avenue as the east and west borders.

The project is part of a three-year, $1 billion investment by Mediacom to improve its services in business districts. Larsen said business owners can get up to 10 gigabits of upload and download speeds under top-tier plans.

"It's bringing more fiber deeper into the cities," Larsen said. "The businesses are the key fiber users today that have the appetite for bigger speeds and faster pipes."

Fiber optic lines, first developed for medical endoscopes in the 1950s, send information coded in beams of light through glass or plastic pipes as thin as human hair. They can provide internet access with up to hundreds of megabits of upload and download speeds, more than what cable providers can provide with telephone or cable lines.

Mediacom is preparing to request construction permits from the city and will begin contacting business and building owners next week.

If a business owner refuses to grant Mediacom right of entry for construction, Larsen said the company will build around it. He also said Mediacom will still install fiber free of charge if the building owner changes their mind later.

The investment comes after preliminary discussions by the Ames Chamber of Commerce and the city electric department to potentially give Ames-based internet provider ICS a chance to provide fiber to the downtown district using the city's power vaults.

John Hall, business development director at the Chamber, said the move by Mediacom is a win for the district, as current and potential downtown business owners had voiced concerns over internet speed and reliability in the area for a while.

The Chamber views fiber optic internet as a recruiting tool to tech companies that want easy access to amenities such as coffee shops, restaurants and other services. The idea has been echoed by the Iowa State University Research Park in partnering with Ames Racquet and Fitness and McFarland Clinic to bring a gym and a clinic respectively to the city's south side.

Downtown has the amenities, but not the internet speeds those companies want, and Hall said it's preventing tech company expansion into the area.

"We know of interest from companies who want to be down here, but internet is a barrier that makes that impossible for them to do," he said.

Larsen said construction has been delayed due to poor weather and for planning purposes as the company would need to bore through concrete to install fiber to buildings. He expects construction to begin sometime this spring and finish sometime in the summer.