Mediacom takes Iowa Google Fiber complaint to FCC

Mediacom escalated a battle with the city of West Des Moines, Iowa, asking the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to review what it claimed was an illegal deal between the municipality and Google Fiber.

Thomas Larsen, Mediacom’s SVP of government and public relations, told Fierce its request to the FCC “is the first Section 253 petition Mediacom has ever filed,” adding “it is a truly unique situation that we’ve encountered in West Des Moines.”

At issue is a deal between Google Fiber and the city announced in July 2020, which Mediacom said offered its rival exclusive access to a new $50 million conduit network built by the city at the expense of other operators and in violation of Section 253 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Section 253 prohibits local regulations which impede the ability of “any entity to provide any interstate or intrastate telecommunications service.”

In its filing with the FCC, Mediacom argued “if the Commission does not act to preempt the city’s actions, that inaction will encourage other municipalities to ignore their Section 253 obligations to the detriment of the public and facilities-based competition.”

The move comes after Mediacom filed a lawsuit against the city and city council in December 2020 over the issue.

Commenting on the FCC petition, a West Des Moines city representative told Fierce “we continue to strongly disagree with Mediacom’s allegations, and we have no intention of abandoning our efforts to build a conduit network in West Des Moines.”

Competition claims

Mediacom claimed the city’s deal with Google Fiber amounted to a “large, exclusive subsidy,” which provides it with better deployment economics than its competitors. It added the arrangement shuts out operators that use technologies other than fiber.

Larsen told Fierce Mediacom already operates a hybrid fiber coax network covering the “developed areas” of West Des Moines and has built fiber to the premises of “hundreds” of businesses in the city. He explained “the deal between West Des Moines and Google Fiber really becomes a major problem for us when we try to build into new areas or upgrade our existing facilities.”

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“The city knows its rights-of-way are very congested, and they are giving Google Fiber exclusive use of the conduit network for 18 months after each section is completed,” he said. “If Mediacom and other ISPs are forced to wait, we are going to be at a huge competitive disadvantage.”

Mediacom pressed the FCC to tell West Des Moines “to halt construction on the conduit network” pending the agency’s review and alter its agreement with Google Fiber to “remove the preferential design, access, financial and permitting rights” afforded to it.

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ReconAnalytics analyst Roger Entner has an interesting take on Google Fiber's relationship with municipalities. He has said that Google asks municipalities to apply to have Google offer fiber in their city or town. This reverses the traditional relationship between provider and municipality, putting Google in the driver's seat.