- Associated Press - Monday, March 28, 2016

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - A long-delayed plan to improve cell phone service for fans attending University of Iowa football and basketball games has spawned a legal dispute between the school and a leading operator of wireless networks.

A subsidiary of the American Tower Corp. filed a lawsuit against the school earlier this month that jeopardizes a goal of improving fans’ mobile experience at Kinnick Stadium before the football season begins this fall.

Facing longstanding complaints about a lack of reliable cell service from Hawkeyes fans, Iowa signed two contracts with ATC in December 2013 to build wireless networks at Kinnick Stadium and Carver Hawkeye Arena.

Once constructed, the company would obtain the exclusive rights to operate those networks and market their use to wireless services providers through 2025. The Boston-based company would pay the university a portion of the pass-through and other usage fees it would collect from carriers.

But newly released records show the university terminated its contracts with ATC in August, saying the company hadn’t started construction, completed agreements with carriers or finished designing the networks after 19 months. The contract envisioned that the system would be in place before the 2014 season at Kinnick, which seats 70,000 fans.

The university has recently been working with another company, Connectivity Wireless Solutions, to design and build the networks and recruit wireless carriers to participate. The goal is to complete them by August. But the effort received a setback in January, when AT&T; declined the university’s request to participate because it is under contract with ATC, records show.

In a lawsuit filed against the university and its governing board, ATC argues that the university has breached the exclusivity clauses in its contracts and asks a judge to rule that they remain in effect.

ATC claims that it has spent “significant time and money” attempting to get the networks built but the delays were caused by factors outside its control. ATC says wireless carriers’ contracts have been delayed due to budget problems caused by a tight marketplace, and that the university failed to give the access and cooperation it needed to design the networks.

A hearing on ATC’s request for a temporary injunction is set for April 8 in Polk County in front of District Judge Robert Blink.

The company argues that the contracts only required its “best efforts” to complete the Kinnick network by July 2014 and set no date for the Carver network. The university didn’t provide the written notice of default and 30-day cure period as required by the contracts, the lawsuit claims.

The improper termination will deprive the company of “lucrative license fees” it would have earned and harm its relationships with carriers, the lawsuit says.

The university’s termination notice, sent by business manager David Kiefl, said the university notified ATC “on numerous occasions regarding the default of your obligations” and given far more than 30 days to remedy them. Another university employee had warned ATC in June that “there needs to be signed contracts and positive movement” or the projects would be cancelled.

ATC has installed hundreds of similar distributed antenna networks, which expand coverage and capacity in places such as arenas and casinos where traditional towers are impractical.

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