Mediacom cites unfair treatment in lawsuit against Iowa City muni network

Mediacom is suing Iowa City, Iowa, and service provider ImOn in an effort to stop a new middle mile network it recently activated to provide voice and Internet services to local businesses.

The cable operator filed the lawsuit with the U.S. District Court's Southern District of Iowa on Dec. 21. It also sent a letter of complaint city staff and the City Council.

Eleanor Dilkes, the city's attorney, told the Iowa City Press-Citizen that the deadline to respond to Mediacom's lawsuit has been extended from Dec. 31 to Feb. 8.

"What we will file is a response to each allegation in the petition," Dilkes said.

In its suit, Mediacom alleges the agreements Iowa City made with ImOn, which were approved by the city council on Nov. 10, violate municipal and state law because they require Mediacom to operate under a local franchise agreement. Mediacom said that the city has also breached its contract and put Mediacom at a competitive disadvantage by not requiring the same of ImOn.

The cable MSO added that since ImOn provides cable TV services in other Iowa markets, Mediacom it should be given the same treatment in Iowa City.

Under the terms of the agreement it has with ImOn, the service provider can lease capacity on Iowa City's existing fiber network and lease 120 square feet in the Tower Place parking ramp for about $2,000 per year to house necessary equipment to deliver services.

Mediacom suggested that the city could either temporarily void its agreements with ImOn until the company obtains a franchise agreement, or release Mediacom from its current local franchise requirements.

"We just want to be treated in the same way. City officials know that both companies provide cable TV, broadband and phone services and do the same things," Phyllis Peters, Mediacom's communications director, told the Press-Citizen. "It's good to have competition, as long as we can compete in exactly the same way without being at a disadvantage to our bottom line."

Iowa is yet another state where a middle mile battle has emerged between a city and incumbent players. In West Virginia, Frontier and the local chapter of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) union are opposing new state legislation to develop a $72 million, 2,500-mile network serving West Virginia, one of the telco's largest states.

The telco said that it already has a 9,000-mile fiber network so it would not need to use the new network to backhaul its data traffic. It also pointed out that West Virginia has six other middle mile networks in operation.

Joining Frontier and the CWA in the opposition to the proposed middle mile network is the West Virginia Cable Television Association, a group that represents Suddenlink, Comcast, Shentel, Time Warner Cable and other cable operators.

"The state-financed, state-owned and state-operated fiber network will be in direct competition with the private investments our members have made in West Virginia,"  Mark Polen, executive director of the state cable association, in a Charleston Gazette-Mail article.

For more:
- Iowa City Press-Citizen has this article

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