Fiber Does a Body Politic Good

August 20, 2013 at 1:00pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

By almost all accounts, Lincoln is doing pretty well right now. Our city is on all sorts of “Best Of” and “Top 10” lists—Best Places to Raise a Family; Best Drivers; Best Governed Cities; and so on. And we’re loving it. Lincolnites and community leaders take joy in patting ourselves on the back every time we show up in another magazine or on another website.

We have room to improve, of course. We all know that. Some local entities think that Lincoln’s target for improvement ought to be becoming more “cool”. Putting aside the subjectivity of that sort of thing, how sad and desperate does that sound? Given Lincoln’s momentum, I hardly think chasing after the cool kids is a worthwhile use of our energies.

We can do so much better than that. Lincoln oughtn’t seek a fleeting endorsement from a small subset of the population with ever-changing tastes. Instead we should create opportunities—for growth, for innovation, for creation, for exploration. We can do that in a number of ways, and arguably we’ve been doing an ok job of it over the past decade. Antelope Valley and West Haymarket are the two most visible and obvious examples, but even smaller projects like the South 48th Street improvements in College View contribute in similar ways.

One topic that has been underplayed—shockingly so, in my opinion—is the importance of next-generation, high-speed internet access. Neither Windstream nor Time Warner have shown any hint of moving their networks forward. I had high hopes that the arrival of Verizon’s call center in North Lincoln a few years back was a sign that they had big intentions here. Nope. Smaller players like Wide Range Broadband aren’t making much of a dent. Overall our speeds are too slow and our prices are too high.

Several communities around the country are addressing that problem by providing municipal internet services. Who can blame them? They want to be competitive but private companies aren’t providing the services they need, so they build out the networks themselves. In some cases the cities retain full control, while in other cases they lease access to private companies that then sell products to customers.

I wonder if such a system would be a win for Lincoln. We know Windstream isn’t going to wow us with its internet offerings any time soon. And Time Warner is under no pressure to innovate because they have a virtual monopoly on the services they provide. We’re stuck. So why not force the issue?

There are upsides and downsides, of course, but I would like to see a more active community conversation about the possibilities. We know that municipal utility operation can work well because we have proof right here in town in the form of LES. We also know that there will be cries from the business community about unfair competition. All of these are things we can and should work through together. But so far ... zilch. For a community that thinks itself progressive, it’s disappointing that we aren’t addressing this issue.

How would you tackle Lincoln’s current and future internet needs?

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The Comments

Derek August 20, 2013 at 4:51pm

I’m told LES has a pretty extensive fiber backbone in Lincoln, but has not been granted permission from the powers that be to let some business come in and use it to provide service. This article (albeit a bit dated) seems to confirm that: http://journalstar.com/business/unite-binding-business-to-fiber-network/article_64b3093c-2821-5c1a-9571-252a724de7c0.html

I’ve been told by numerous source that Verizon has wanted to bring Fios to town but were shot down when wanting to use the existing fiber. Also, I’ve heard at one point we were on the shortlist for Google Fiber, but I’m not sure if we still are or what will ever come form that. One can dream I suppose.

Mr. Wilson August 20, 2013 at 5:36pm

Yeah, there was some nice buzz about getting LES into the fiber game about 10 years ago (as that article confirms). But there was a ton of griping about unfair competition, so the talk eventually died out. I don’t really care who provides the service—I could probably make a decent argument for several different entities—but at the very least we need to be making progress toward making it happen.

CP August 21, 2013 at 1:51pm

I agree with everything you say above. You nailed it with “I hardly think chasing after the cool kids is a worthwhile use of our energies.”

RE: Fiber -  very little would make me a happier citizen than fast & less expensive internet access. It seems to me that LPS has fiber to every school building in our fair city, and they didn’t run it themselves. The fiber is out there, folks. The question is who can wring the most profit out of getting it into your homes.

Speaking of LPS… I’ve wondered about the feasibility of LPS putting a wide band wireless tower on the roof of schools and blanketing the whole city. They have a great “network” or physical locations that get in every neighborhood. The school would benefit if all homes with students got a LOW, LOW price for access. The Universities in the city (UNL, NWU, UC, SECC, etc) could do the same. Everyone in town with no ties to an Educational institution could pay a slightly higher tier (but still less than TWC/Windstream). Maybe there would be a grant out there somewhere to help fund a chunk of the infrastructure setup and local businesses (LIBA could front it) and/or the City of LNK could chip in as a quality of life issue.

I wonder if LES would be interested in getting involved? They are a public utility and have experience delivering services like this. I’d be happy to bundle electricity & data.

Has anyone ever heard of a Educational entities working with the municipality and/or business community to provide access? Smarter people than me have to have had this idea somewhere - right?

Mr. Wilson August 21, 2013 at 2:09pm

That’s an interesting proposal. I have a hard time seeing LIBA getting on board. Although the idea would help LPS’s budget (and educational outcomes), it would also put a government entity up against private businesses. That’s a big no-no in LIBAland. See also: LES.

Jeff R August 23, 2013 at 1:18am

I’m pretty sure Unite Private Networks runs the fiber that connects LPS.  The real problem is the last mile - how do you get it into the home.  It’s difficult and expensive to do.  Wireless is a good option, Widerange is doing that in town, but there are issues with line-of-sight to the towers.

peter August 23, 2013 at 2:34pm

You’re kidding, right?  This city has some of the worst drivers I’ve ever seen.  Turn signals are apparently optional and a red light means “accelerate”.

Mr. Wilson August 23, 2013 at 3:26pm

Liquidretro August 24, 2013 at 3:38pm

Unite does run the LPS fiber network.

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