Going for a Gig in Grinnell, Iowa: Competition on the Horizon

Grinnell, Iowa, home to about 9,000 people, has a need for speed. That’s why the city is looking to Mahaska Communication Group (MCG) to provide high-speed Internet service of up to 1 Gbps (1,000 Mbps) over a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. After MCG announced the possibility in mid-April 2019, Windstream Communications now also plans to bring FTTH to Grinnell according to The Scarlet and Black.

“Undeniable Correlation"

MCG has already distributed a two-question survey to residents in the Grinnell area to determine interest in the FTTH network. To give residents an estimate of the prices, MCG linked the price list for Oskaloosa. The prices are $50 for 25 Mbps (download) / 25 Mbps (upload) and $75 for 1 Gbps/1 Gbps. The company also offers triple play packages of Internet, TV, and phone.

The Grinnell Area Chamber of Commerce stated that MCG may start building the FTTH network in 2020. Similarly, Windstream has revealed a plan to start building its own FTTH network in Grinnell in the Fall of 2019. City Manager Russ Behrens told The Scarlett and Black:

"At the end of the day, our goal is not necessarily to support one [Internet service provider] over the other, it’s to provide the best broadband service to the community that we can, so that’s what we’re trying to do.”

He also mentioned that there was “an undeniable correlation" between the MCG interest and the Windstream announcement.

Two Years of Examination

About two and a half years ago, the city and the Grinnell Area Chamber of Commerce put together a series of focus groups to learn what residents and businesses wanted. Better Internet service made it into those conversations, and since then the city and chamber have been in discussions with Internet service providers. None of these conversations, however, made much progress until MCG stepped forward.

MCG is based out of the small town of Oskaloosa, Iowa, and was recently profiled in Broadband Communities Magazine as "an accidental ISP.” The Musco Lighting company was only trying to provide service for its business operations in the early 2000s, but community members wanted in on this new connectivity. In 2006, MCG partnered with the nearby city of Indianola to expand Internet service there. Since then Indianola has built its own FTTH network. Now, MCG is providing service not only in Oskaloosa, but also in the communities of New Sharon, Montezuma, and Lake Ponderosa as of 2018.

Economic Development 

Although any FTTH network in Grinnell would be aimed at residents, it still advances economic development. Chamber of Commerce Director Rachael Kinnick explained in The Scarlet and Black:

“Traditionally when people thought of economic development they thought of brick and mortar and the actual infrastructure of a particular building. Now we’re thinking more community-development based, things that make [a community] attractive for people to want to take jobs at your companies.”