Like countless municipal broadband providers before it, Iowa’s ImOn Communications is faced with trying to launch a new fiber broadband service — at the same time it has to fend off lawsuits from incumbent ISPs angry at the faintest specter of competition. Iowa City was recently sued by Mediacom Communications, who claims that the operation’s public/private agreement with the city violates the law since ImOn doesn’t have a traditional franchise agreement. ImOn says it doesn’t need a traditional franchise agreement because it’s not offering TV service.
Mediacom is undaunted however, this week expanding the suit to cliam that “Iowa City and ImOn conspired to allow ImOn to build out its cable infrastructure in violation of franchise laws,” and that ImOn wrongfully “interfered with Mediacom’s franchise agreement with the city.”
The suit mirrors a recent suit by Cox Communications against Tempe, after the city struck a new agreement with Google Fiber that was better than Cox’s existing agreement. In most instances the incumbent ISP can often get the same deal, they just didn’t ask because they weren’t competitively motivated to do so.
“We want to resolve the issues that we have, which are not issues with ImOn,” said Mediacom, a month before adding ImOn to the lawsuit. “They’re issues with how city leaders choose to define the structure and framework of doing business with one telecommunications company versus another when we provide the same services.”
Of course the fact that Mediacom previously enjoyed a total monopoly in Iowa City is entirely coincidental.
ImOn tells the Iowa City Gazette that under local rules it’s obligated to obtain a traditional franchise agreement only once it decides to expand into traditional television services. Such lawsuits all too often saddle municipal broadband (or public/private partnerships like this one) with extra legal costs, after which the incumbent ISP involved will consistently try to claim such builds aren’t financially viable.