As many parts of the world struggle with how to bring high-speed broadband to agricultural regions, a growing number of rural Iowans go online via gigabit connections.
City residents typically have multiple choices from top-tier providers, but a large number of Hawkeyes rely on local providers, utilities and municipalities, Dave Duncan, CEO of the Iowa Communications Alliance told Broadband World News. The Alliance includes about 120 Iowa providers that serve customers in 485 of Iowa's approximately 900 communities. Of those 485 locales, more than 300 have fiber-to-the-home, he said.
"Many communities have fiber-to-the-home and the recent buildup of fiber-to-the-home [deployments] are scalable up to gigabit and beyond," Duncan said.
"The fact they are so community-based that customers know and see the management team around town -- at the store, church -- and so our companies are directly accountable to their customers. They do feel that obligation to serve their customers responsibly and do what it takes," says Dave Duncan, CEO, Iowa Communications Association
In fact, these local providers are part of the reason U.S. News & World Report named Iowa #1
for its broadband performance, he said. Although a few Tier 1 and Tier 2 operators were quick to take credit for the state's top broadband ranking, local providers' ability to serve their neighbors with FTTH and other technologies was a vital component, said Duncan.
"We have many small towns -- there are 1,000 towns in Iowa -- and there are a lot of people living in sparsely populated areas but there are hardly any areas with nobody living there, like other states," he said. "Some other states have large areas with nobody living in them, whereas we've got people spread across the entire state but not very many people anywhere, except for in the metro areas."
In other words, service providers must treat most of the state as a rural area with all the challenges that presents.
MediaCom -- one of those larger providers -- has been offering 1Gbp/s service to about 1 million Iowa households across 300-plus communities since January 2017, when it completed part of its plan to deliver high-speed broadband customers across its 22-state footprint. The cable operator used DOCSIS 3.1, with plans to later adopt Full Duplex DOCSIS 3.1, Tom Larson, senior vice president of government and public relations at MediaCom, told BBWN at the time (See Mediacom Delivers 1Gpbs Service Across Iowa.)
"The equipment we've installed on the network allows us to seamlessly go to Full Duplex DOCSIS," adds Larson. "We knew it had a future-proof element to it. We looked out 10 years, 15 years, and said, 'We know we've got the network that can go that long.' You want to have enough right of way on either side of the road so you have enough room to widen roads and still add more traffic."
Despite the cost and time requirements, more local providers are deploying fiber to rural customers. Some operators leverage existing copper and coax, using Gfast and DSL, when fiber is cost prohibitive, said Duncan. Iowa providers also deploy wireless broadband via cellphone or point-to-point, he noted.
"Once you get the fiber in the ground -- it's expensive to go fiber-in-the-home or fiber-in-the-node -- but once you've got that fiber in there, it's going to last a long time and then it's just a question of updating the electronics on either side, at the service provider and at the residence or at the business," Duncan said.
"You've got cellular; more and more customers are using cellular, but you have to remember cellular broadband is all routed by the closest cell tower which is all routed via an underground fiber-optic network so the cell towers all have to be connected by fiber optics," he added. "It's back to the idea that fiber optics truly is the best mechanism, whether it's facilitating wireless or fiber in and of itself."
— Alison Diana, Editor, Broadband World News. Follow us on Twitter @BroadbandWN or @alisoncdiana.