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Discussion extended in Mediacom versus Iowa City lawsuit

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IOWA CITY — Discussion over what officials with Mediacom Communications Corporation call an unfair advantage handed from Iowa City to a competing telecommunication provider have moved to the courtroom.

Earlier this month, Iowa City retained the Des Moines based BrownWinick Law Firm to work in consultation with Iowa City Attorney Eleanor Dilkes to represent the city in a lawsuit filed against it Dec. 21 by Mediacom. Mediacom is one of the state’s largest telecommunications providers

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, alleges that lease agreements between the city and ImOn Communications violate municipal code and state law by undermining Mediacom’s existing franchise agreement and provide ImOn with an unfair advantage.

Last year, the Iowa City Council approved lease agreements with ImOn, a Cedar Rapids company that has the Gazette Company among its investors, that include leasing for space in the city’s data center to create a communication hub, access to the city’s existing fiber-optic network and rights to install and maintain a network in the city right-of-way.

In response to those agreements, officials with Mediacom asked the city in a Dec. 21 letter to either void the city’s existing lease agreements with ImOn and require the company to acquire a local franchise agreement in accordance with state and local law, or give Mediacom a deal like ImOn’s, which doesn’t require a franchise requirement or franchise fees.

The city originally had until the end of December to respond, but court documents indicate that an extension has been granted until Feb. 8.

“The city’s responses are due to the court Feb. 8, part of the reason for that extension, which was offered by Mediacom, was to allow the attorneys for the city to review and discuss potential resolution to the issues presented,” said Edward Pardini, senior vice president with Mediacom. “At this point the discussions that are taking place are between the attorneys, I have not been presented with any proposals at this point.”

As pending litigation, Dilkes could not provide comment on the matter, but said the understanding is ImOn’s franchise agreement would be obtained if and when ImOn decided to expand local services into cable television.

In this vein, officials with ImOn told The Gazette in December their plans for Iowa City were strictly for telephone and Internet services and a franchise agreement would not be required until cable TV is added to the list of service offerings.

“The city and ImOn contemplate that ImOn will obtain the necessary cable TV franchise prior to providing that service in Iowa City,” Dilkes said. “The city has expressed its willingness to partner with Mediacom in the same ways they have with ImOn.”

ImOn announced in a Tuesday news release that the company had officially began its fiber-to-the-business offerings in Iowa City.

The 10 gigabit fiber business network launched about a month ago and the company is now taking sales orders throughout much of Iowa City, according to the release.

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