Dissatisfaction with the Internet options in Ames is an issue the City Council has confronted in recent years. With a new provider in town, some believe the new competition could be the solution.
(TNS) — The COVID-19 pandemic illustrated the need for a change in internet providers for one Ames, Iowa, man as he competed for service in a household of people working and learning from home.
After a string of internet issues in December, Volker Hegelheimer signed up to be a beta customer for MetroNet, Ames' newest internet provider. By July, he was fully connected and a couple of months later he left his internet provider of 22 years.
Dissatisfaction with the internet options in Ames is an issue the City Council has confronted in recent years. With a new provider in town, some believe the new competition could be the solution.
"It's just an aging infrastructure problem," Hegelheimer said. "So I was at a point where I said, you know what, I got to try something different. And the MetroNet came along and I decided to join them."
Two years ago, the Ames City Council met to address residents concerned with unreliable internet service. Councilmember David Martin, with a background in computer science and software analysis, took a special interest in this issue.
The council considered creating a city-owned and operated internet service, or just helping to fill the gaps not filled by the companies.
Though the city is still considering these options, Martin said the competition and new technology from MetroNet could improve the situation.
While other companies use cable TV infrastructure and fiber to connect to the neighborhood, Martin said MetroNet will use fiber-optics that connect their office to each home.
The fiber-optics not only help maintain speeds as entire families work and learn from home due to the pandemic but as new technology arises, the same fiber can be used, Martin said.
MetroNet first installed fiber-optics technology, which Martin said can handle more strain, in Greencastle, Indiana, 15 years ago. Today, MetroNet serves 100 communities across eight states, servicing over 170,000 homes and 9,000 businesses.
The company came to Iowa a year and a half ago to start since-completed projects in Bettendorf and Davenport. It expanded to other Iowa cities, including Cedar Rapids and Waterloo.
Joe Salerno, MetroNet's market manager for Iowa, said Ames will be a "Gig-a-Bit City" by the end of the year, meaning most of Ames will have access to their technology.
"College towns have been a good fit for us," Salerno said. "A lot of times college towns tend to be early adapters. We like the energy of a college town. But not only that, I think the relationship with the city as we've started these talks."
A search for more options in Ames
Before MetroNet, Martin said, most Ames residents chose between Mediacom, a cable TV company that also provides internet, and CenturyLink, a telephone company that also provides internet.
ICS Advanced Technologies, another company in Ames, specializes in providing internet to apartment buildings.
"There was a lot of customer dissatisfaction," Martin said. "A lot of people had a lot to say about the options that they had. And there's just not great satisfaction, particularly with respect to customer service, reliability of the system and price."
A 2017 survey conducted by the city of Ames found 70% of participants graded their internet service "fair" or "poor." Mediacom customers made up 54% of the survey and 35% were CenturyLink subscribers.
Martin said becoming an internet provider in a new city is a huge undertaking, which explains why others have not entered the market before MetroNet.
"Coming in and wiring up an entire town, even a small city the size of Ames, that requires a lot of capital investment to do," Martin said.
Though added competition and new technology could be the solution Ames is looking for, Martin said city staff is moving forward researching comparable cities' internet structure. The findings of this effort will be presented at a future meeting.
"MetroNet, as a new provider, has been working very hard to connect people, and people are online now," Martin said. "It's a very new service, so things are in flux."
Besides one issue with his billing that was fixed, Hegelheimer said at this point, he would recommend MetroNet to anyone looking for a change in internet providers. He could not speak to his customer service because he has not had many issues to bring to them.
Salerno said MetroNet will set up a storefront at 1311 Buckeye Ave. to have a continuing presence in Ames and will expand construction to new areas if needed.
The current construction plan, available to view on MetroNet's website, shows plans to bring the fiber-optic technology to much of Ames. The construction covers areas as far north as Ada Hayden and south as the Ames Municipal Airport. The plan goes just west over the Boone-Story county line and east of Interstate-35.
Parts of Nevada are under construction and MetroNet has future plans for construction in Gilbert.
©2020 the Ames Tribune, Iowa. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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