The Ottumwa Courier

August 23, 2013

Company claims cooperation

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — You won't have to worry about the cost of installing a citywide broadband system if you use the miles of fiber being installed right now by private investors.

That's the suggestion from Mediacom spokesperson Phyllis Peters.

"Our management [people] for that part of Iowa met with city leaders, sat in a room with them and asked where priorities were for the community. We were told it would be … an economic development benefit … to the community to have fiber out to the airport and industrial [park] area. Now we have done that," Peters said Friday.

Customers like RJ Performance and Ottumwa Flying Service have already ordered broadband, Peters said, adding that installation from the main lines to the businesses will take place within weeks.

So now, she said, Mediacom wants residents and city leaders to see how responsive private industry can be.

"The reason we haven't said all sorts of good things yet is we didn't want to over-promise and under-deliver," Peters said Friday. "Now, we need to tell them."

Broadband has become a topic of conversation in Wapello County as Internet access becomes more important — even essential, some have said — to economic development in rural communities.

It's been paid for not by local government, she said, but by private industry, and done quickly, too.

"We really hope this Ottumwa industrial park becomes an area of greater growth for the current businesses and attracts new businesses as well. Our fiber network has the capacity to grow as … business grows," she said.

So instead of Ottumwa taxpayers footing the bill for miles of fiber optic cable, let private companies, whether it's Mediacom or Lisco, a business also putting in fiber optics, make the investment with their money. If there's a demand, and Peters believes there is, they'll be successful.

During his previous visits to Ottumwa, Craig Settles, a broadband and fiber optic community assessment consultant working with the OEDC, said that “on one end of the spectrum, the city itself ... hires people to build it, then ... run the network. On the other end, communities create a wish list where they go to the private sector.”

Remember that private business has its strengths, Peters said.

"We’re in a position to partner with cities and business groups to offer the fastest broadband services more quickly and more economically than is possible with other alternatives," she said.

Settles said there are communities where the network is operated just by a business. In others, the network is owned solely by the government. But there are also dozens of American communities engaged in a public-private partnership, he said.

"It's a matter of, let's all work together," Peters said. "We’ve deployed a robust fiber network [around Ottumwa], and it’s available. We build it and want it to be used."

— To see reporter Mark Newman's Twitter feed, go to @couriermark