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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Feven Getachew
Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
Michael Lozada
Michael Lozada
May 6, 2024
Nathan Hoffman
Nathan Hoffman
May 6, 2024
Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
May 6, 2024

Coming soon: fiber optic internet everywhere in Grinnell

From left to right: Rachael Kinnick – Chamber Director, Dan Agnew – City Mayor, Steve Burnett – Assistant General Manager at MCG, Natalie Leisure – Sales and Marketing Manager, Russ Behrens – City Manager all attended MCG’S groundbreaking ceremony. Photo from MCG’s website page.

A years-long saga is coming to a close as Mahaska Communications Group (MCG) embarks on a two-year, more than a million-dollar construction project to bring fiber optic internet to the entire Grinnell metro area.    

Residents and business owners alike can subscribe to the new service starting as early as July, provided installation is completed on time. MCG will offer two service plans: a one gigabyte service, which has download speeds of 1,000 megabytes (MB) per second, for $59 per month; and a two gigabyte plan for $99 per month.        

“This [is the] sort of project the community has been working on for really over a decade, and the city and the chamber really started working aggressively on it about five years ago,” said Russ Behrens, Grinnell city manager.     

When Grinnell first began to seriously consider fiber opticsin 2016, MCG offered to help the city explore its options. The process wasn’t easy, and the city struggled to find a potential provider.      

“It’s been difficult, frankly, with some of the other providers to even build a relationship and try to get them to communicate with us,” said Behrens.   

“Nobody had an interest in building fiber to every home in Grinnell,” said Behrens. “We originally started our first discussions with the current providers – Mediacom, Windstream – but they made it abundantly clear they were not going to make an investment in this community.”     

Eventually, MCG stepped in itself and announced in early 2019 that it planned to expand into Grinnell, after talks began the previous year     

Over the course of the last five years, MCG has experimented in several other small towns around Iowa – such as New Sharon and Montezuma – and felt comfortable bringing their service to Grinnell.      

Before making the decision to begin construction, MCG launched a survey with the Grinnell Chamber of Commerce which reported that almost 600 Grinnell residents would be interested in the potential new service. The fact that so many potential customers were receptive to the idea helped MCG make its final decision to start building in Grinnell.     

On the heels of MCG’s 2020 announcement that they were exploring fiber optic options in Grinnell, Windstream announced its intention to enter the fiber optics business and quickly began to install aerial lines that June.     

While Windstream installed their lines before MCG, the service is only available to two-thirds of the city, said Steve Burnett, assistant general manager of MCG. “We will do what we always intended to do which is to help the entire community by putting fiber around the entire community, and not just part of it.”    

MCG had initially planned to install aerial lines but was persuaded to switch to buried cables after the City offered to help coordinate and map out underground lines. According to Burnett, underground lines increase the reliability of the system during storms such as last August’s derecho.   

In addition to full-city coverage, MCG also plans to continue its involvement with the wider Grinnell Community. The company helped provide WiFi hotspots alongside the Grinnell-Newburg Foundation in the wake of the derecho.      

Part of MCG’s mission, according to Burnett, is to integrate into the communities they serve. As part of that goal, MCG will be hiring local for its new Grinnell branch office, located on the corner of 5th Ave. & Broad St.         

“Our main objective is to serve communities that have been underserved,” said Burnett. “We will typically donate services to public law enforcement, public libraries and schools. Those entities can use the money they would have spent on services to buy books for the schools and libraries or even equipment for the EMT or Fire Department.”        

“One thing we learned when we were having all our discussions was that speed is really not the critical piece. It’s reliability that people care more about, and I think that’s what MCG really brings to the community,” said Behrens.    

Due to MCG’s reconfiguration of a previous project in Sigourney, the start of construction was pushed back to March 29.   

Although Behrens anticipates minor nuisances with the long-term construction, he is sure most people understand that disruption or inconveniences are warranted in the long run in order to have that broadband at their doorsteps.     

“Just based on MCG’s history, their teams are pretty confident they’ll take care of those problems,” said Behrens.      

Behrens said that there will be regular meetings with MCG to ensure that city supports the installation process, such as helping the company avoid damaging existing utility lines.  

MCG will consider expanding to nearby businesses on the outskirts of Grinnell if they express interest in the new service. The company also plans to help reinforce the College’s preexisting fiber infrastructure, and construct new lines connecting Grinnell College-owned facilities around town.

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