Two years after arriving in Dubuque, internet provider ImOn Communications is announcing plans to roll out residential broadband internet services throughout the city.
The multi-million-dollar, fiber-to-the-home initiative will take at least four years to complete and eventually will bring access to all residences in Dubuque.
Construction will begin in spring 2020. Beginning that year, about 4,000 new residences will gain access to broadband services annually.
ImOn Communications Vice President of Marketing Lisa Rhatigan emphasized that fiber connections have multiple advantage over other options like cable modems and DSL.
“It is the most efficient way and the fastest way that data travels,” she said. “It is also the most secure and the most reliable way to transfer data.”
Dave Lyons, sustainable innovations consultant with Greater Dubuque Development Corp., said other providers have built fiber-to-home access in the area. However, these efforts largely have focused on the fringes of Dubuque or in small communities in the county.
ImOn’s efforts will increase residential fiber access on a scale Dubuque previously has not seen.
“This is a game-changer,” Lyons said.
Rick Dickinson, president and CEO for Greater Dubuque Development Corp., said the growth of internet services in Dubuque has not happened overnight.
“This is the result of years of preparation,” he said.
Local economic development officials and city leaders have taken multiple steps to increase local broadband access. This includes streamlining the permitting process and making it easier for telecom companies to utilize city infrastructure.
But Dickinson noted that enticing a company to make a sizable investment in Dubuque was easier said than done.
“Our legacy providers are great partners as well, but they have to make a decision as a publicly traded company. Do they invest a buck in downtown Denver or in downtown Dubuque?” Dickinson said “We had to find people whose interest was in putting a buck in Dubuque.”
Unlike some of the larger internet providers, ImOn ultimately decided Dubuque was the right fit.
Based in Cedar Rapids, ImOn Communications commenced work on its Dubuque infrastructure in 2017, forming what officials describe as “the network backbone.”
ImOn opened its Dubuque office, 300 Main St., in 2018 and already has worked with multiple business clients. Justin Stinson, general manager for ImOn’s Dubuque market, said the company’s plan was always to focus on business clients first.
“We really needed to focus on building our market the right way, getting ingrained in the community, getting ingrained with the business clients that we deal with, and building out our infrastructure before we wanted to get too far ahead (with residential),” he said.
Patrice Carroll, CEO of ImOn Communications, estimated that the company has invested about $6 million in creating this infrastructure “backbone” since arriving in Dubuque. In addition to providing fiber to business clients, this work also laid the foundation for an eventual expansion into the residential realm.
“Now we are talking about building that distribution network into neighborhoods,” Carroll explained.
She noted that bringing fiber to into these residential areas will be done in multiple ways, adding that “some of it will be conduit, some of it will be aerial.”
Carroll declined to say precisely how much ImOn will invest in the fiber-to-home expansion. However, she said it will exceed the $6 million figure that previously has been invested in Dubuque.
ImOn officials said it is too early to comment on which parts of Dubuque would be first in line to receive fiber connection.
In 2009, ImOn became the first company to bring fiber optic technology to the Cedar Rapids area. Two years later, it introduced fiber to the home in that market.
The company is continuing to expand its footprint in Cedar Rapids and recently began working on fiber-to-home construction in Iowa City.
“This is a big year for us, doing major construction in three metropolitan areas,” Carroll said.
As the company continues to grow, its workforce is following suit.
In addition to bringing construction crews to Dubuque, the expansion into the residential market will result in a permanent increase to the company’s workforce.
Stinson said ImOn currently has six employees in Dubuque. He estimated that the company will add three or four new workers in 2020. In subsequent years, he anticipates the workforce will grow at an even faster clip.
Lyons believes that ImOn’s expansion positions Dubuque well for the future, noting that the build-out of fiber is crucial.
“It is the only infrastructure capable of keeping up with the pace of change of technology,” he said.
Lyons emphasized that ImOn’s expansion does not necessarily shut the door to other providers aiming to add fiber-to-the-home service. He said local economic development and city officials are “open to any carrier” and hope to see more and more who are interested.
Lyons praised ImOn’s plan for being inclusive and said the company’s commitment to equity makes it a great fit in Dubuque.
“Every piece of the city’s vision has an equity component,” he said. “This can’t just be about certain neighborhoods or certain consumers (getting fiber-to-home). There were very few players who had an equity component to their business plans. (ImOn’s) business plan actually matches up perfectly with that equity piece.”
Mayor Roy Buol also expressed excitement about ImOn’s plans for residential broadband.
“Telecommunications and connectivity is a big part of the future,” Buol said. “To remain a sustainable city, we have to have the latest technologies to make that happen.”