Publicly Owned Conduit: Network Neutrality Can-Do Tool

Ever since the FCC reversed network neutrality protections, an increasing number of local communities have started to wonder about the advantages of publicly owned Internet infrastructure, including conduit. At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we’ve received an uptick in requests for information from elected officials, community business leaders, and local citizens.

When folks are similarly curious about public-private partnerships, they wonder about whether or not a municipality or other form of local government can require a private sector partner ISP to adhere by the tenets of network neutrality. An agreement between public and private sector partners to bring better connectivity to a city or region is a contract between the involved parties; the FCC’s decision won't interfere.

Looking At Lincoln

Lincoln, Nebraska, has fine-tuned the art of working with private sector partners interested in using their publicly owned conduit for privately owned fiber. The city invested in an extensive conduit system back in 2012 to create an environment that would welcome private sector providers. Nelnet’s ALLO Communications uses the conduit to offer Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) in Lincoln. 

The city uses a Broadband Franchise agreement to allow ISPs non-exclusive use of their publicly owned conduit. In Section 4: Service Characteristics, Lincoln requires any private sector ISP that wishes to use their conduit to adhere by network neutrality rules, which they clearly spell out. You’ll notice that the city also imposes a “no data caps” rule:

Section 4: Service Characteristics. 

A. The System shall, at a minimum, provide the following capabilities and characteristics: 

1.Net Neutrality: In the provision of Broadband Service, Franchisee shall comply with the Open Internet regulations. 


2.No Blocking: Franchisee shall not block lawful content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices; and 


3.No Throttling: Franchisee shall not impair or degrade lawful Internet traffic on the basis of Internet content, application, or service, or the use of non-harmful devices; and 


4.No Paid Prioritization: Franchisee shall not engage in paid prioritization, where paid prioritization means the management of the System to directly or indirectly favor some traffic over other traffic, including through use of techniques such as traffic shaping, prioritization, resource reservation, or other forms of preferential traffic management, either (a) in exchange for consideration (monetary or otherwise) from a third party, or (b) to benefit an affiliated entity. 


5.No Data Caps: The Franchisee shall not assign Data Caps to Broadband Services provided within the Franchise Area. 


You can review Lincoln’s full Broadband Franchise document here. If your community is considering investing in conduit to attract private sector partners, Lincoln’s approach is good place to start.

Learn more about Lincoln’s project and all the ways they’ve realized benefits from their investment, by listening to Christopher interview David Young, the city’s Right-of-Way Manager, for episode 238, episode 228, and episode 182 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. We’ve also written several stories about their achievements, having followed their progress since 2012, so check out the "Lincoln NE" tag.