Lincoln, Nebraska, home of the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers, will soon boast another fan favorite — a citywide fiber network that will make gigabit speeds available to all residents and businesses.
The City of Lincoln and ALLO Communications, a Nebraska-based Internet service provider (ISP), are approaching the end of the deployment phase of their partnership aimed at building fiber out to every home and business in the city of about 285,000. To expand the fiber network, ALLO has leased access to Lincoln’s extensive conduit system, which hastened the buildout and lowered costs. With only minor construction remaining, all of Lincoln will soon have access to fast, affordable, reliable gigabit connectivity.
In November, ALLO’s President Brad Moline announced that the company would be “substantially done with boring and conduit placement” by the end of 2018. After that step, which is considered the most intrusive of the construction process, ALLO stated that they still needed to connect approximately 3,000 - 4,000 homes to fiber.
City Owned Conduit Leads the Way
Lincoln began its conduit project in earnest in 2012, taking advantage of downtown redevelopment to deploy conduit along public Rights-of-Way. As of 2016, the city had spent approximately $1.2 million building and maintaining the 300-mile-long conduit network.
To bring better connectivity to Lincoln residents and businesses, the city leases access to the conduit system to private ISPs to deploy fiber networks. In return for access to the conduit, private companies pay fees and abide by the city’s Broadband Franchise ordinance, which stipulates that providers follow network neutrality principles, in addition to other policies designed for the public good. Lincoln also requires companies to make any conduit that they add on to the existing network available to all other ISPs in the system.
A handful of other companies were already leasing access to the conduit in 2015 when Lincoln announced that it would partner with ALLO to build a citywide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. The ISP started connecting subscribers in 2016, and three years later, it’s about to bring fiber broadband access to all homes and businesses in the city. ALLO offers voice and video services in addition to Internet access, and residents can subscribe to the following three tiers:
- 20 Mbps symmetrical - $45/month
- 300 Mbps symmetrical - $70/month
- 1 Gbps symmetrical - $99/month
Success Despite State Restrictions
Nebraska is one of about 20 states that has barriers to municipal broadband. State law prohibits municipalities from both providing Internet access directly and partnering with a private company to offer access; a conduit system was one of few options Lincoln had for broadband infrastructure investment.
Conduit networks present both benefits and challenges to municipalities. Conduit can help communities attract high-quality Internet access providers, resulting in better connectivity and more competition. Communities that invest in conduit to lease to private Internet access companies also have the ability to maintain tight control over their Rights-of-Way to reduce damage due to repeated excavation and disruption of daily traffic. However, building conduit doesn’t ensure that ISPs will come or that they’ll behave for the benefit of the community. Lincoln addressed these issues by developing smart policies and promoting the network to ISPs. Mike Lang, Economic Development Aide to the Mayor, explained in episode 182 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, “There was a lot of very proactive outreach behind the scenes in order to secure the broadband provider mix that we currently have.”
Lighting Up Lincoln
The city’s conduit network and partnership with ALLO have produced notable benefits for Lincoln. Residents and businesses now have access to high-quality broadband from more providers than before, and the city has been able to implement innovative programs involving schools, traffic lights, and other public facilities. The conduit leases are also bringing in revenue to the city. When he was on the Community Broadband Bits podcast in 2016, Lincoln’s Right-of-Way Manager David Young estimated that the city would be receiving more than $2 million annually in fees by 2018.
From the start, a major goal for the conduit project was to help Lincoln remain relevant in a rapidly changing economy. When announcing the conduit initiative in 2012, Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler said, “As Mayor, my goal is keep Lincoln among the most competitive economies not only in Nebraska, not only in the United States, but the entire world.” It seems the partnership with ALLO is helping the city do just that. At a press conference celebrating the near completion of ALLO’s fiber network, Beutler said, “What a game changer this has been for the city of Lincoln.”