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Mediacom's battle against a Des Moines-Google Fiber pact plows ahead

A judge has denied a motion to dismiss Mediacom Communications' lawsuit that targets a broadband partnership formed between Des Moines, Iowa, and Google Fiber.

The order from a Polk County judge issued on Tuesday, May 18, dismissed Mediacom's allegation that the city was in the wrong for teaming with Google Fiber without first obtaining voter approval. A handful of other allegations made by Mediacom, including one holding that the city is giving Google Fiber preferential treatment, will proceed.

MCC Iowa LLC, a subsidiary of Mediacom, lobbed its lawsuit at the city in December 2020, alleging that the council greenlit a sweetheart conduit network agreement with Google Fiber that violates state law. Tied in, the suit claims that the council improperly used taxpayer-backed financing bonds "intended to remedy urban blight and poverty" to build a $50 million citywide conduit network for the exclusive use of Google Fiber.

Mediacom said it is pleased that the court allowed the suit to go forward while again alleging that the agreement between the city and Google Fiber will hurt taxpayers. Mediacom wants the project to be suspended until the lawsuit is concluded.

"As Mediacom detailed in its original complaint and more recently in a petition filed with the Federal Communications Commission, the City made an exclusive deal with Google Fiber out of the public view while certain members of the council had strong conflicts of interest," Tom Larsen, SVP of government and public relations for Mediacom, said in a statement.

Mediacom's complaint stems from an original agreement between the city and Google Fiber inked last July that reportedly calls for Google Fiber to pay the city $2.25 per month for each household that connects to the network, for a minimum of $4.5 million over the 20-year partnership, the paper added. The city has countered that providing reliable and affordable Internet access is a top priority among its citizens, and that "local government can and should play a role in addressing this need for our residents."

Noise at the FCC

Earlier this month, MCC Iowa filed a petition with the FCC seeking a review of the rights-of-way management practices of West Des Moines, centered on the city's agreement with Google Fiber.

Mediacom argues that the agreement violates Section 253, which prohibits local governments from denying competitive telecommunications carriers the right to use their rights-of-way. Specifically, Mediacom argues that the agreement "distorts communications competition" in the market, and the exclusive rights-of-way access and other benefits tied in enable Google Fiber "to deploy its network far more cheaply and efficiently than other ISPs."

The city told Fierce Telecom that it disagrees with Mediacom's allegations at the FCC and has "no intention of abandoning our efforts to build a conduit network in West Des Moines."

Underneath all of this drama involving the city, Google Fiber and Mediacom, another entity, MetroNet, is building a 1-Gig network for the Des Moines metro area using private funds. MetroNet has earmarked about $70 million to build a network that will start to deliver service in spring 2022.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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