Letter to the Editor: City shouldn’t compete with private broadband

By Rod Fisher, Charles City

I live in Charles City and for nearly 20 years I’ve been a technician and broadband specialist for Mediacom Communications. Just like many of you, I have been reading the recent news stories about the city’s plan to construct a taxpayer-funded telecommunications system.

The Charles City project comes on the heels of Iowa earning the top spot in the U.S. News & World Report 2018 Best States rankings. Specifically, U.S. News found that more Iowa households have access to high-speed broadband internet of at least 1 gigabit-per-second than any other state in the country.

As part of the Mediacom team that helped bring 1 gigabit internet speeds to nearly 1 million homes and businesses across Charles City and more than 300 other Iowa communities back in January 2017, I can’t help but wonder why city leaders are raising our property taxes and risking the financial health of our municipal government to duplicate services that are already being offered by the private sector.

Now that Mediacom has joined other major cable companies in announcing plans to take our current 1 gigabit offerings to symmetrical 10 gigabit speeds over the next few years, Charles City’s multimillion-dollar gamble is even more questionable.

I think it is important to note that not one penny of the money Mediacom has spent building its fiber-rich Iowa network or paid in salaries to more than 1,600 Iowa employees has come out of your property taxes.

The same cannot be said for the network that our city leaders are proposing to build. In fact, the summary for the swollen FY20 budget recently approved by our City Council states “the two main reasons for the large increase from previous years are the wastewater treatment plant and the fiber to the home project.”

If Charles City follows in the footsteps of other failed municipal broadband businesses like Burlington, Vermont; Lake County, Minnesota; Monticello, Minnesota; and Provo, Utah; the $12 million price tag of this project will be just the beginning of what we as local taxpayers will be asked to fork over.

Each of these projects started with promises of affordable broadband, and ended with mountains of debt, property tax increases and declining municipal credit ratings.

If we as citizens aren’t vigilant in questioning our local government’s attempt to jump into competition with private businesses, I fear that Charles City will soon be known more for its high property taxes than its high internet speeds.