City pays $595K, provides Mediacom access to conduit network

The city of West Des Moines will pay Mediacom $595,000 and allow the internet service to license parts of its conduit network, resolving a lawsuit filed more than a year ago, according to the settlement agreement reached by the two parties.

Under the terms of the agreement, Mediacom agreed to dismiss the lawsuit and its related petition with the Federal Communications Commission, which was never ruled on by the commission. As part of the agreement the city does not admit to any wrongdoing.

The citywide conduit network is set to move forward with several changes outlined in the agreement. Mediacom will be able to license portions of “unused and unlicensed city-owned conduit” to install its own fiber-optic cables in both Phase 1 and 2 of the conduit.

In the next six months the city will work with Mediacom to identify portions of the Phase 1 conduit that meet its required specifications, including conduit pipes that are a minimum of 1.25 inches, or 1 inch in diameter where Mediacom expressly agrees to the smaller size.

Mediacom argued at an August 2021 hearing that the conduit pipes allocated to internet service providers other than Google Fiber were too narrow for the fiber-optic cables Mediacom and other providers use to install broadband.

The city is not required to alter the conduit’s design in order to meet the specifications, but Mediacom’s engineers and contractors will design the second phase of the conduit with the city to ensure it meets the approved specifications.

Under the terms of the agreement, the city will maintain neutrality in working with all internet service providers on the conduit network. A previously established six-month period where Google Fiber would be the only provider with access to the conduit was reversed in the settlement, giving Mediacom and other providers access to the network at the same time as Google Fiber.

The settlement also states that the city will not refer to any provider as its “partner” on the project.

West Des Moines Mayor Russ Trimble said other providers will also have the ability to license space in the conduit for the same price Mediacom and Google Fiber are paying.

“That’s our plan is to treat all of the internet service providers equally and fairly,” Trimble said. “They will all have the same exact terms as Mediacom and Google Fiber.”

If there are any future plans or proposals to “extend the conduit network, or construct a new conduit network or facilities, into newly platted residential or commercial subdivisions,” the city is required to provide written notice to Mediacom and discuss those plans with its engineers and contractors.

With the project set to continue, the City Council held a special meeting Jan. 24 to address costs moving forward.

The council voted Monday to hold a public hearing on Feb. 21 to consider a proposed amendment to the Urban Renewal Plan Area.

The amendment outlines an increase in the maximum amount that can be spent on the conduit project from $50 million to $60 million, council documents show. It also proposes issuing an additional $17.2 million in general obligation urban renewal bonds, increasing the borrowing authority from $42.8 million to $60 million.

The council approved an allocation of $7.7 million to the project from the city’s American Rescue Plan Act funds.

Trimble said increased material and labor costs due to supply chain issues and the pandemic as well as unforeseen design and engineering costs spurred the need for additional funds, but he said the city does not anticipate needing to use the full $60 million that is outlined in the amendment.

He said property taxes will not go up as a result of this project.

Conduit is currently installed to 50% of houses in West Des Moines, and Trimble said the city anticipates that the first customers will be connected by late spring or early summer 2022.