MetroNet Fiber Network Installation Starts In NW Metro Cities

New Fiber Internet Fuels Essential Connections

How dramatically did life change after the COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020? For many of us, home suddenly became a workplace, school, entertainment center, and movie theater, all in one. This quick transformation also exposed a big weakness in the one thing that makes all this possible—the internet. 

 “You hear about the urban-rural digital divide, but there’s also a digital divide in metro areas,” said Scott Cirksena, mayor of Clive. “It’s a dilemma when some neighborhoods lack fast, high-quality internet service.”

 Sometimes only one company provides internet service in a neighborhood, limiting options. In other areas, outdated infrastructure thwarts internet speed and reliability.

That’s why Clive, Johnston, and Urbandale are welcoming the addition of another high-speed, fiber internet provider to local residents. The opportunity arose when MetroNet, a Midwestern-based, fiber-optic telecommunication company, proposed a major investment in the northwest Des Moines Metro. This is a 100% private business project and no public funds are being used.  With this investment, MetroNet will join a number of other private companies providing fast and reliable fiber internet, television, and phone service in Clive, Johnston, and Urbandale.

Fiber installation started in early 2021 and when complete, fiber internet service will extend to roughly 95 percent of the three communities. This is expected to improve high-speed internet accessibility, affordability, and competition in the market.

“The internet has become such a critical part of modern daily life,” Cirksena said. “This project couldn’t have come at a better time.”

New demands overwhelm outdated internet connections

The coronavirus pandemic threw into stark relief how costly it is to be without high-quality internet service. For students, a lack of fast, reliable internet service hinders learning. For employees and entrepreneurs, it stymies the ability to work. For patients using telemedicine, it makes it harder to visit their doctor. For families and friends, it’s tougher to stay connected.

 With all the ways the internet has become integrated into daily living, it’s easy to forget that home internet service was practically unheard of 25 years ago. The internet was just starting to become more widespread in universities and offices by the mid-1990s. “I was issued my first laptop computer for business in 1995,” Cirksena recalled. “When I’d travel for business and needed to work, I’d plug the computer into the phone line to get internet service.”

By the late 1999s, things were changing fast with services like America Online. The internet quickly become mainstream in many homes, as people went online with 56K modems and dial-up service. This meant tying up the phone line, as one modem connected with another, accompanied by the distinctive sounds of static and electronic screeches.

Long gone are the days when going online meant browsing a few webpages or just checking email. “Everyone in the house is using the internet for so many things,” Cirksena said. “It’s essential for business video conferencing and cloud storage, online classrooms, home entertainment, gaming, wi-fi, and more.”

Demands on internet connectivity only continue to rise. “We don’t have cable or satellite TV anymore because we stream what we want to watch,” said Matt McQuillen, City Manager of Clive. “I’d never go back.”

For the past four years, McQuillen’s wife has also worked from home for an Australia-based tech firm with U.S. headquarters in the Silicon Valley. “Nearly 75 percent of her time is spent working remotely, so good internet service is vital,” he said.

Working-from-home arrangements are increasingly common. Telecommuting on a regular basis has grown 115 percent in the past decade, according to the 2017 State of Telecommuting in the U.S. Employee Workforce Report. This trend has only accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Slow, unreliable Internet connections, however, can wreak havoc on businesses, from reduced productivity to unintended downtime. Some studies indicate that slow internet connections cost employees one week per year of productivity.

Beyond business, inferior internet service hampers the quality of life, whether you’re a student trying to learn new skills or you’re a senior adult trying to make wellness a priority. 

Faster internet for everyone

Fiber internet helps solve many of these issues. This next-generation technology can transfer lots of data quickly, making it the fastest internet available. Some parts of the northwestern Des Moines suburbs already have fiber internet service, but there’s room for growth, McQuillen said.

The challenge? Fiber is expensive to install.  “There’s an expectation from residents today that high-quality internet connectivity is a basic service, like water or electricity,” Cirksena said. “It’s a gamble, though, for internet providers to make the kind of investments required to bring fiber internet to a community.”

Working with several communities at the same time makes economies of scale possible for a fiber internet provider. Cirksena is excited that MetroNet is willing to make these extensive investments. “This will give people more choices for enhanced levels of internet service,” Cirksena said.

From a practical standpoint, fiber internet service means no choppiness or delays during a videoconference call. It allows good wi-fi reception throughout your home or outdoor living areas. “Overall, it gives you a much better experience, whether you’re on the internet for work or other uses,” McQuillen said.

New competition in the internet service market will likely impact the service and pricing offered by legacy providers, which should benefit residents. “It’s great to be part of an area where private businesses are competing hard to serve our cities,” said Peter De Kock, Assistant City Manager for the City of Clive.

Working smarter, living better

The northwest suburbs’ track record of working together helps attract new opportunities like this. “We have a history of regional cooperation,” McQuillen said. “We’re in this together.”

Consider Fire Station #43, which Clive and Urbandale built together recently. This provides emergency services to the growing neighborhoods in both cities while using taxpayers’ money efficiently. “Expanded fiber internet infrastructure will be another example of how working together makes life better throughout our communities,” McQuillen added.

Fiber internet is a game-changer for four key reasons, including:

  • Business growth. As telecommuting becomes the norm, fast, reliable internet service is essential. 
  • More opportunities for learning and fun. High-speed internet service keeps the community connected, from students to senior adults. 
  • Improved quality of life. Senior adults were hit especially hard by the COVID-19 lockdowns and lack of in-person gatherings.  Fast, reliable internet supports dozens of virtual engagement and sharing tools among family and friends.
  • Economic development. Fiber internet frees people to live and work where they want. “It’s exciting to think about the types of investments and other opportunities that will flow from this,” Cirksena said. Don’t be surprised if there’s economic migration away from the coasts and major metro areas to central Iowa, McQuillen added. “We have excellent schools, safe neighborhoods, great recreational opportunities, and affordable homes in the Des Moines metro. My friends in Austin, Texas, are impressed we have multiple options for gigabit internet service in Clive.”

What to expect next

 

The buildout of the new fiber internet system could take approximately 18 months. This means heavy equipment will be a common sight in neighborhoods as crews install the infrastructure. Specific information on where MetroNet teams are working in Clive, Johnston, and Urbandale will be posted at metronetinc.com/construction.  Residents and businesses can also call MetroNet customer services at 1-877-386-3876.   Clive staff will be reviewing and inspecting work throughout the project and making sure MetroNet and its contractors follow all applicable ordinances and regulations.     

 “It will be disruptive at times,” Cirksena said. “We want to ensure the process is as smooth as possible, though. City leaders in Clive, Johnston, and Urbandale will keep the lines of communication open with residents and businesses as this project progresses.”

The long-term benefits of fiber internet far outweigh any short-term challenges. “More access to high-speed internet will give our communities another big advantage,” McQuillen said.

Additional information about the MetroNet fiber network installation project in Clive is available here.  The City of Clive does not endorse or show preference to any particular internet service provider (ISP).  Residents and businesses will continue to have multiple choices for internet service from current providers and any future providers that may enter the market.