Independent Community Service Award

Free WiFi for Downtown Cedar Rapids

ImOn

As the recipient of this year’s Independent Community Service Award, ImOn gets our nod for bringing free WiFi to downtown Cedar Rapids, Iowa, last year.

Yet that’s only part of a larger story about ImOn’s service to its community.  The story’s much larger, in fact.

Let’s flesh out the WiFi piece first. Announced last October, the system is a commercial-grade, state-of-the-art network utilizing access points throughout downtown that are connected to ImOn’s high-speed, 10-gigabit fiber network. ImOn assumed 100 percent of the equipment and maintenance costs. It worked closely with the City of Cedar Rapids to get access to hang WiFi equipment on City utility poles and streetlights, which power the system.

And everyone, even those who don’t get their residential data service from ImOn, can access the WiFi-network for up to 2 hours daily.

Initially the WiFi network covered one square mile downtown. Importantly, it also covered two symbols of Cedar Rapids’ resurrection after the devastating 2008 floods: NewBo City Market, an 18,000-square-foot retail space featuring fresh food and crafts; and the McGrath City Amphitheater, an outdoor concert venue on the west bank of the Cedar River. Cedar Rapids City Manager Jeff Pomeranz says, “I appreciate ImOn’s contribution to make this happen… this service is a big step toward our goal to make Cedar Rapids a connected city.”

Importantly, the free WiFi network is growing. Visit any park in Cedar Rapids or neighboring Hiawatha or Marion and you can access it.  “We want to keep expanding” to other public spaces and venues, says Jeff Janssen, ImOn’s VP, Sales and Marketing. “We want people to be able to move around downtown and have access be seamless.”

Indeed, everything about this project seems relatively big except for ImOn, a modest-sized company. At just eight years old, the privately held firm, which competes with Mediacom, closely guards its customer and employee totals. We manage to pry loose an approximation of its head count when we dig into ImOn’s culture, which we learn is fiercely local. “All local companies support their communities,” says ACA EVP and Chief of Staff Rob Shema. “What ImOn does is wild.” We have to investigate.

Janssen tells us ImOn supports more than 70 charities, causes and non-profits with cash donations and/or in-kind services, such as free advertising. It also encourages employees to volunteer by giving them paid time off. We’d heard ImOn supports about as many charitable causes as it has employees. We ask Janssen to confirm. “That’s a fair assessment,” he tells us.

As if all that isn’t enough, one day each month ImOn takes its entire truck fleet offline to deliver Meals on Wheels.

Still, there’s another part of the story. It’s the person who “really got [ImOn] off the ground in 2007,” according to Janssen—the company’s president/CEO Patrice Carroll, whose extensive telecom background includes senior positions at MCI Worldcom. More pertinent to this story is Carroll’s commitment to doing good, serving on the boards of Jr Achievement, United Way and Theater Cedar Rapids, among many others. From the beginning, Janssen says, Carroll has insisted “we’re a company that not only says it’s local, but acts local.”

Donating a WiFi network to the community and growing it. In our book, that’s acting local.

–          Seth Arenstein

–          Fast Facts

–          ImOn provides fiber to the home with speeds up to 110Mb, one reason why it’s been named Cedar Rapids and Iowa City’s Best ISP by Corridor Business Journal for 4 straight years.

–          Cedar Rapids is Iowa’s 2nd largest city, home to 130K people.

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