Mediacom takes fight over WDM conduit project to FCC

Mediacom is taking its fight with West Des Moines to the FCC. (Photo by Denny Müller via Unsplash)

Mediacom is asking the Federal Communications Commission to alter what the company sees as an inappropriate and monopolistic pact between West Des Moines and Google Fiber for a citywide conduit network.

The city defends the agreement as a step toward improving competition, lowering prices, and addressing a need for high-speed broadband service long requested by residents.

The filing, with the help of lawyers from Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath, is a new tactic in a months-long fight over a $42.8 million deal. West Des Moines signed a deal that calls for Google Fiber to install the conduit and to pay the city fees.

“The city has set out to pick winners and create losers in the competition between providers and technologies by heavily subsidizing and supporting the entry of a single competitor,” Mediacom wrote in its petition, filed Wednesday. “The ultimate result of the city’s discriminatory and unreasonable actions will be to render it cost prohibitive for Mediacom and other telecommunications and broadband service providers to provide service in the city’s areas of new development and to upgrade existing services elsewhere.”

The petition goes on: “The commission should direct the city to cease any and all promotional activities related to the conduit network or Google Fiber, including press releases, mailings, emails, door hangers, websites or webpages, social media or other forms of advertising. At a minimum, the commission should direct the city to cease making statements about the conduit network that refer or relate to specific providers and the quality or attributes of any provider that will use the conduit network or their technology.”

The city says that the conduit network financed with taxpayer-backed bonds would eventually be open to other communications firms, such as Mediacom, a major player in West Des Moines. Google Fiber didn’t provide broadband service in West Des Moines before the deal was signed. The pact allows West Des Moines residents and businesses to get the conduit connection to their property for free, before they decide whether to subscribe to a service for a fee.

West Des Moines will be paid at least $4.5 million over 20 years as part of the Google deal.

Mediacom contends Google Fiber is designing the system in a way that will make it impossible for other companies to use it. The company asked the FCC to complete an expedited review of the petition “because despite being aware of Mediacom’s position that the city’s behavior is not neutral, fair or legal, the city is forging ahead with building the conduit network and with promoting connections to the conduit network and every day that passes increases the difficulty of fashioning an effective remedy for the city’s violations of (FCC rules) that does not unduly burden city taxpayers.”

West Des Moines defends the project.

“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,” said Lucinda Stephenson, communications specialist for the city.

In a hearing as part of a lawsuit Mediacom filed in Polk County District Court, Jason Craig, a lawyer representing West Des Moines, said Mediacom basically has a monopoly in the major Des Moines suburb, and doesn’t want to lose it.

“Mediacom obviously wants to maintain its monopoly and prevent competition in West Des Moines,” Craig told a judge.