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  • June 16, 2014
    The Des Moines Register

    Businesses Seek Funding for Rural Internet Project


    by Marco Santana, msantana@dmreg.com

    Two business heavyweights want to show how high-tech agriculture in Iowa and other states can benefit from stronger broadband access.

    Mediacom and Deere & Co. have asked the federal government to help fund a plan to demonstrate how reliable connectivity has grown from a luxury for communities into an anchor that can attract business and other attractions.

    The project would strengthen access to high-speed Internet access in Audubon and Carroll counties in western Iowa.

    "We are at the cusp of what could be a really big opportunity in Iowa," Dan Templin, senior vice president for Mediacom Business, told The Des Moines Register. "But, like everything else, there are funding questions."

    Officials say the move would help farmers get the most out of modern farm equipment, much of which now includes features that can only be fully implemented with high-speed Internet access.

    A filing with the Federal Communications Commission laid out the cost of the project, which officials estimate would require roughly $800,000 of federal money on top of about 20 percent more to come from Mediacom and other private sources. Officials for both companies have said the first step is to convince the government of the plan's viability.

    "Internet service has become a nontraditional community anchor," Templin said. "We tend to think of them as hospitals, schools and libraries. But as an agribusiness leader, the crop operations of large community farms in Iowa are being viewed as the community hub."

    The plan would build six miles of fiber-optic cable in Audubon County and 19 miles in Carroll County.

    Mediacom officials said in the filing that the company would raise any money needed beyond the $800,000, which would break down to $200,000 for the Audubon County portion and $600,000 for Carroll County.

    The FCC will award between $100 million and $150 million to fund broadband projects later this year. Deere and Mediacom submitted their proposal as part of the commission's preliminary discovery phase. A formal application seeking the money will be required once the FCC determines rules revolving around the process.

    The timing of the announcement coincided with the Iowa Broadband Summit in Ankeny. At the daylong event, broadband advocates, technology professionals and government leaders spoke to the benefits of broadband connectivity in Iowa.

    Jonathan Adelstein, president and CEO of the Alexandria, Va.-based Wireless Infrastructure Association, praised Iowa and Gov. Terry Branstad for raising the awareness of the importance of broadband connectivity.

    "In rural states, where the business model is more challenging, it is all the more important to encourage investment," he said at the summit. "Other states are doing it and those are the states who will get the jump, get the first dollars out the door and get broadband networks built quicker."

    Advocates noted the increasing technology needed in agriculture. For example, some planting equipment is tied to an online-based program that ensures the farmer makes the most efficient use of soil.

    For much of that equipment to work, they must connect to some sort of broadband connection. Up until now, Templin said, that has often meant relying on spotty service and connections.

    With the new arrangement, farmers will now be able to rely on dedicated connections that can raise reliability.

    These things "cost money to build and operate effectively," Templin said. "We are at the far fringes of what is remotely viable just with Mediacom dollars. But we are finding ways like with the partnership with Deere."

    Mediacom provides Internet and other broadband services in 22 states, primarily in rural communities.

    "We are not entirely altruistic," Templin admitted. "But what is good for the state here, benefits Mediacom. Those federal dollars are going someplace. It's in our shared interest to make sure it gets spent in Iowa."

    ***originally published at Desmoinesregister.com on June 17, 2014***

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