Gigabit internet comes to West Branch and West Liberty

High-speed internet comes to West Branch and West Liberty. -- photo by Tony Webster
High-speed internet comes to West Branch and West Liberty. — photo by Tony Webster

West Branch and West Liberty were given a special gift this Christmas: 1 gigabit internet, one of the fastest services available.

In a press release from Liberty Communications, which will launch the service in the area, General Manager Jerry Melick said, “It is 100 times faster than average broadband speeds nationwide.”

The service, which Liberty calls Fusion Gig, will be available to both rural and urban residences within the company’s network area. Melick says that those interested in 1 gigabit internet should reach out to Liberty Communications.

The 6,000-plus residents of West Liberty and West Branch now have state-of-the-art internet access, but Iowa City and Coralville’s combined population of approximately 90,000 remains without high-speed, fiber optic broadband service. 1 gigabit internet offers speeds of 1,000 megabits per second. For comparison, Mediacom’s fastest internet package in the area only reaches speeds of 150 megabits. 

In May 2015, CenturyLink, one of the state’s reigning internet service providers, announced the rollout of gigabit service to more than 4,000 businesses in Clive, Des Moines, Johnston, Urbandale, West Des Moines and Windsor Heights. But the same high-speed service was not available to private residences or other communities across the state.

Mediacom, another popular Iowa ISP, does not offer the service locally either. Both companies provide internet through lines that use electricity — either phone or cable — whereas gigabit internet traverses fiber optic lines, which use light.

In April, Cedar Rapids-based ImOn Communications announced it was offering gigabit internet to residents in Marion and Hiawatha, with plans to expand to parts of Cedar Rapids by this November. That same month, the Daily Iowan reported that ImOn was also exploring the possibility of launching the service in Iowa City.

Establishing fiber optic networks is more complex than other internet systems, requiring companies to evaluate the available engineering infrastructure in each area of service before installing the fiber optic lines. This necessitates substantial upfront investment from service providers.

But where gigabit internet becomes available, the competition tends to make market prices drop and improve connections, which benefits the entire community of internet users.

Can the Iowa City area realistically expect fiber optic internet in 2016?

Liberty Communications’ Melick told Little Village, “There’s been some activity from other carriers [in gigabit internet] and now I think there’s potential.” But he said, “Right now there are no specific plans to expand our company’s service to the Iowa City/Coralville area.”

In a statement, CenturyLink press representative Nancy Devinay-McNeley said that, “CenturyLink offers high-speed broadband connections to residents in Iowa City, with speeds of 20, 40 and 100 mbps available in some areas. Some homes and apartment complexes in Iowa City are being served with fiber today which would allow us to offer higher speeds to those location as well as to new developments in the future.”

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