CR company to survey Iowa City

BY BEN MARKS | APRIL 20, 2015 5:00 AM

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Even if fiber-optic technology doesn’t come to Iowa City, experts say cable and Internet prices will still most likely drop.

Within the last month, two fiber-optic companies have announced plans of possibly expanding into the Iowa City area.

Today, the Cedar Rapids-based company ImOn Communications began surveying neighborhoods in Iowa City as its next possible expansion, and in March, crews for Indiana-based Metronet Technologies began their surveying work as well.

ImOn started in Cedar Rapids eight years ago and has also expanded into Marion and Hiawatha, ImOn CEO Patrice Carroll said.

Fiber-optic is a method of transmitting information that uses light instead electricity, University of Iowa Professor of computer science Ted Herman said, and it is capable of immensely faster speeds.

“No one really knows what the limit is,” Herman said. “Tens of thousands of higher speeds than electricity.”

ImOn provides its Internet and cable services through these fiber-optic lines instead of phone lines such CenturyLink or cable lines such as Mediacom, both of which use electricity.

Through fiber-optics, Carroll said ImOn will offer Internet speeds of 1,000 megabytes per second to homes and 10,000 Mbps to businesses.

In comparison, according to online speed tests, the UI’s Internet connection averages 60 Mbps, and the fastest speed Mediacom currently offers in Cedar Rapids is 305 Mbps.

Vishal Misra, associate professor of computer science at Columbia University, said fiber-optic technology has become more commonplace and has led to something known as the Google Fiber Effect, named after the most famous provider of fiber-optic technology.

So far, Misra said, local Internet prices have drastically fallen and speeds have increased at every location Google Fiber has announced its being installed.

“They’re afraid of losing business to Google Fiber, so they offer similar speeds and prices,” Misra said. “And the speed with which they respond means they can do it anywhere they want, but they’re not doing it unless there’s competition.”

Misra said whether Google Fiber actually goes to those cities seems to be irrelevant, because an announcement provides a sufficient scare to local providers.

Phyllis Peters, Mediacom communications director, said Mediacom does in fact have the capability to raise speeds without any additional infrastructure or significant cost but has chosen not to because of “lack of consumer demand.”

“If we can raise those speeds to 305 in Cedar Rapids, then we can raise those speeds anywhere else,” she said. “However we’re waiting for the consumer demand to merit those increases. We have the network there and ready to go, it’s like turning on a faucet.”

However, Peters said ImOn’s expansion into Iowa City wouldn’t affect Mediacom’s services and pricing because the company is used to competing with ImOn in Cedar Rapids.

“It’s just one more player in a market that has very robust competition,” she said.

Data from the FCC, however, show 55 percent of US residents only have access to one broadband provider offering at least 25 Mbps.

That Google Fiber Effect exists, Misra said, is proof there is not enough competition in the market.

And while Google Fiber is one of the most well-known examples, he said anywhere where communities start to have competition, the existing local providers are forced to react.

When ImOn opened in Cedar Rapids in 2007, Carroll said the city saw cable/Internet prices stabilize and the quality of service go up for everyone.

Iowa City has actually already had an ImOn fiber-optic route laid through it for several years now, Carroll said, but it’s lain dormant.

ImOn expects to finish surveying May 6 and at that time the company will determine for sure whether it is financially able to expand into the city.

If the decision to expand is made, Carroll said Iowa City residents can expect services to be available within several months.

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