This is the transcript for episode 364 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. For this episdoe, Christopher speaks with David Young, former Fiber Infrastructure and Right-of-Way Manager for the city of Lincoln, Nebraska. They discuss the city's conduit network, its partnership with Allo, and how the broadband infrastructure is creating new opportunities for Lincoln. Listen to the episode, or read the transcript below.
David Young: Competition works in a dense urban environment. I think that that's one measurement of success.
Lisa Gonzalez: Welcome to episode 364 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. This week we have another interview Christopher recorded while at the Mountain Connect broadband conference in Colorado. He caught up with one of our returning guests, David Young. If you're a fan of the podcast, you will immediately associate David with Lincoln, Nebraska, but David is now working in Kansas City, Kansas. Christopher and David reviewed the years long project in Lincoln that started with conduit and has culminated in a citywide Fiber-to-the-Home network. David discusses how the community worked within the confines of one of the most restrictive state laws and some of the technical aspects of their conduit deployment that led to where they are today. He also discusses their partnership with ISP Allo and their agreement. David talks about Lincoln's decision to pursue a public-private partnership and some of the considerations other communities should review as they look at various network models. David and Christopher spend some time reviewing some of the many benefits Lincoln has enjoyed due to the presence of the network. Now here's Christopher with David Young.
Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I did it a little differently that time because I'm at Mountain Connect sitting across from former multiple guest, David Young. Welcome back to the show. David.
David Young: Hi, Chris. How are you?
Christopher Mitchell: We're at Mountain Connect. It's a wonderful event. And David graced us with his presence this year, so I found an excuse to shove a mic in your face.
David Young: It was very hard. Twisted my arm, really.
Christopher Mitchell: The former Rights-of-Way Director for Lincoln?
David Young: Fiber Infrastructure and Right-of-Way Manager.
Christopher Mitchell: Yes, exactly what I said.
David Young: Yes, yes. Me too.
Christopher Mitchell: Now currently the Kansas City, Kansas, Public Works Deputy Director. You received a promotion multiple times from people at dinner last night and from myself.
David Young: You got to love these long titles really.
Christopher Mitchell: Right. Well, I'm not one to . . . I'm living in a glass house, in that case.
David Young: Institute for Local Self-Reliance — maybe we can make that longer.
Christopher Mitchell: There was a time in which my title was "Christopher Mitchell, the Director of the Telecommunications as Commons initiative at the New Rules Project for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Minneapolis, Minnesota."
David Young: You beat me.
Christopher Mitchell: There's a reason I changed it. So I want to — we've talked several times —
David Young: I just call you Chris, by the way.
Christopher Mitchell: Right? It would be odd if you used that every time you referenced me. You've been on multiple times to talk about Lincoln, and even though you're in Kansas City, Kansas, now, this is kind of a retrospective, is what I wanted to talk to you about in Lincoln because there's just a lot of really interesting stuff that happened there that you helped make happen. And so, let's start with the conduit. Remind us what exactly you did in the ground in Lincoln.
David Young: So it wasn't just me. There were a lot of people involved. It was a big team effort.
Christopher Mitchell: That was a plural "you."
David Young: Yes, the royal we. So there were a lot of people involved in the project. The concept was, starting in the most dense, populated area, we put in conduit underneath all the arterial streets, starting with a single four inch conduit, later moving to six inch and a quarter innerducts.
Christopher Mitchell: And sorry, let's just stop for a second.
David Young: Sure.
Christopher Mitchell: Innerducts within that four inch conduit?
David Young: We actually went away from the four ince conduit completely and just did what we would call a six pack installation. Now Lincoln —
Christopher Mitchell: Does that look like a six pack?
David Young: Eh, kind of. Six conduits and no Coors Light lable. Since we're Colorado.
Christopher Mitchell: So, how much fiber could you put through one of those? Like a ton or . . . ?
David Young: Generally speaking, in an inch and a quarter conduit, the fill ratio depends. There's a lot of variables here. If you're going to go up to an 864, then you need to go with a two inch conduit or an inch and a half conduit. So a lot. And that's per conduit, right?
Christopher Mitchell: So is the model that a company comes along and says, "Hey, we'd like some space," so you give them a whole conduit? How did that all work?
David Young: So generally speaking in Lincoln, yes, and there are a lot of reasons for that. So when you look at these conduit models, you really have to think about the location, the density of people. Lincoln has almost 300,000 people. It's the state capitol. There are a lot of different variables, and the university headquarters is there. So, in looking at this model, you needed to provide for carriers that were only interested in providing connectivity to government agencies, state agencies, carriers that were looking at statewide connectivity, carriers that were looking at just local and regional connectivity. So that's why we went with the six pack model and then allowed each carrier to put their own fiber in to connect the dense areas of downtown. And then we took the revenue from that and expanded those systems on arterial streets or main streets throughout the community. And that's when we partnered with Allo to do Fiber-to-the-Home, once the system was that far along.
Christopher Mitchell: And so you would have a maximum of six entities you could lease conduit to in that model, right?
David Young: Actually, you can lease more than six. It depends on how you structure the model. So, one model is all in. So I'm a company that comes in. Let's just use for example Level 3. Level 3 wants to lease a space in the system, in the entire system, so you guarantee them a space. Now, maybe a regional carrier comes to you and says, I only want to lease a couple of areas. You could lease to them on a linear foot model, so they only have certain spots in the system, or you could lease under a per customer per month model and allow them to build in a non-guaranteed fashion anywhere in the system. The one thing that about the conduit model in a dense urban environment, it lends itself to what cities do well — pipe, manholes, construction in arterial Rights-of-Way — great. I mean, so for us to put it in six conduits and have six carriers in that section and then have another carrier come along, okay, we can put another three conduits in. That's not the end of the world. I mean, it lends it to what cities do very well.
Christopher Mitchell: Let me ask this. For you to say that putting three in — I'm a little bit surprised that's not a big deal because does that involve cutting up the road? What's the conduit under? Is it under the sidewalk and it's easier to get to? How did you do that?
David Young: So, in several areas, the guidance that we would give or that I would give to other communities is look at the back edge of the Right-of-Way. So if you put it at the back edge of the Right-of-Way, generally you are closest to the building, which is the lowest cost for the carrier to attach to the conduit and then connect to the building. If you're on an arterial Right-of-Way, you're behind the sidewalk generally speaking, if you can. There's a lot of areas — and I always say this: it depends, right, on the specific location you're putting this in. If you're in downtown Boston, the Right-of-Way goes to the building edge, right? So you're still under sidewalk, but generally speaking if you can put it under sidewalk and then put the boxes just outside of the path of the sidewalk, that's the lowest cost methodology for putting in a conduit system.
Christopher Mitchell: Now, I want to make it clear that to some extent what you did in Lincoln is remarkable and it's worked very well, but I feel like my job is also to remind people that in part, you were very limited in what you could do because the state wouldn't even let you lease dark fiber. The state has been very anti-municipal in its policy since 2005.
David Young: We did not in Lincoln strive to change state law. We left the state law the way it was. There are many that consider Nebraska's state law one of the most, uh, restrictive on municipal broadband.
Christopher Mitchell: You're sitting across from one of those people.
David Young: Yes, and considering my audience, most people who listen to you would recognize that.
Christopher Mitchell: Right, there's probably not a single person who's steaming right now at our claim about that.
David Young: But recently, legislation has been proposed that would remove some of those barriers on dark fiber leasing. So in a perfect world, the city would put in fiber and just lease fiber out, right?
Christopher Mitchell: Or perhaps both. I mean, maybe one of the conduits has municipl fiber that could be leased.
David Young: Right, and in Lincoln we did that. One of the conduits always had municipal fiber in it, but we were restricted for what we could use that for. But if you're looking at a rural application or a smaller community application, 50,000 and under, maybe the number depends on the kind of community, it would be much more cost effective to just put in fiber and then lease out a variety of models of fiber. You could do traditional IRUs, you could do per customer per month models, you could do franchise models where they provide service to everybody at regulated rates, you could do a lot of things. But having that basic infrastructure in, in a community with a larger, more dense population makes a lot of business sense so you can put in conduit and a carrier can put in their own fiber. In a smaller town or a rural setting, it's just not there. So being able to size your conduit or your broadband infrastructure appropriate for your community is a big deal, and then putting together the right model that attracts people to come in and use it.
Christopher Mitchell: So you have a deal with Allo, which I actually think is a remarkable partnership and it's well worth — anyone who's considering a partnership should look at what you've done. But one of the things some cities do require is that when Allo would expand conduit in areas that you had not built, that they would deed it back to the city. You don't do that, right?
David Young: We don't, but let me be clear here because there is a little bit of a gray area. Any conduit that's installed on an arterial street in Lincoln, Nebraska, must meet the conduit system standard and is deeded back to the city. When it goes into the residential neighborhoods — because we did not have a footprint in the residential neighborhood, and we wanted to kind of be very careful about the model there to allow Allo to put in their conduit in the neighborhoods and for Allo to own that infrastructure, the trade off we made was some of the things that you find in the broadband franchise. Which, when communities are looking at partnering with different entities, you have to be very careful, right? Some models like I think the Fort Morgan model is a really good model for Fort Morgan. So Allo owns the drop and the equipment, the city pays for the backbone. Great. That works great. You look at some of the other models where the city wants to own the entire thing and they want a private partner to come in and run it. That's great too. I think you have to be very careful. It's great to look at other communities for ideas, but coming in and saying, you know, this is what Nebraska got, we want that too. You have to understand all the nuances that went into that decision and why that was palatable to a company at that time.
Christopher Mitchell: So as we go broader away from just Allo and look at what your conduit has enabled across the community, what sort of cool things is the city of Lincoln doing that it wouldn't have if they had hired some other person rather than you and your brilliance? No, I mean, if the team that you worked with, if you guys —
David Young: You definitely have to strike all the last bit of that. I am not that smart. But the city's conduit has allowed them to do several things. I think on many levels you could measure the success of the project. One is the impact on the telecommunication market. So, after announcing the Allo project — we were six years, five years into the broadband infrastructure project for Lincoln — prices went down for residential service. Contracts for service, went away. Modem fees went away for a large part. Windstream announced that they were gonna stop installing copper and start converting all of their networks to fiber for greenbuild areas. Charter came in and upgraded their entire network and dropped their prices. So competition works in a dense urban environment. I think that that's one measurement of success
Christopher Mitchell: Is another measurement of success the Nebraska Cornhuskers football team.
David Young: Scott Frost moved to Lincoln — I'm glad you brought that up — because of the fiber project. I'm sure of it. He's never said that publicly.
Christopher Mitchell: Right, only privately when you're hanging out with him.
David Young: I do not know Scott Frost. He seems to be a great coach, so excited to see that.
Christopher Mitchell: I really hope he's not as good as you say, as a Minnesota partisan. If everyone else in the big 10 is going to be that good, we're just struggling. We need someone to be less good so we can be more good. That's how these things work. It is zero sum.
David Young: A couple of the other things: connecting all the traffic signals enabled a project called Project Green Light, Green Light Lincoln. A good friend of mine, Lonnie Burklund, the deputy director of public works over at Lincoln, Nebraska, he has a project where they're upgrading all of the signals and re-timing all the signals in the city, putting camera detection out there. It's amazing, just the math, the savings to the community, the average commuter by streamlining the system. It's really impressive. If anybody's interested in that, you can just Google search "Green Light Lincoln" and it will come up. And there's a lot of information that you can find out about that. And lastly —
Christopher Mitchell: Well, before you go away from that. In Minnesota, one of the things I've noticed is that you can tell upgraded traffic signals in part because they're the ones that have blinking yellow arrow signals, which I think is one of the best inventions, which solves a problem which is one of the worst inventions in the history of mankind — the red arrow, which drives me nuts. But one of the things that's nice is that as people come up with new ideas of how to improve traffic signaling, now you have those signals on an IP address, right? You can just get right to them. You don't have to, like, send someone out in the field to reprogram a box or something like that.
David Young: Well, you can dynamically change the timing. So beforehand, you're right, somebody would have to go out and they would actually literally, the old analog systems, they would change the dial. And it's timing in that an east-west calculation for 30 seconds of green, you know, 10 seconds of yellow, whatever.
Christopher Mitchell: 10 seconds of yellow? You guys got an interesting traffic signal.
David Young: Well we got to encourage that. Lonnie will probably call you and say everything I say is crazy about the timing portion of this. But what it allows for is time of day calculations for timing, ao you can have a morning rush and afternoon, general timing, and then an evening rush and those can have different timing patterns. With an analog system, a non-connected system, you'd have to send somebody out there three times a day, and they would have to time every intersection in the corridor. With the new system, they can sit in the office.
Christopher Mitchell: So, but it is a human that's doing it then? We're not —
David Young: Today.
Christopher Mitchell: Right, that's what I was just thinking.
David Young: Yes, I knew where you're going with that. It's interesting. So could you partner with somebody like IBM to study that? I think Des Moines, I believe I recently read, they were actually looking at partnering to do some of that study. There are different pieces of software out there now that can provide you cell phone data, where people are moving based on different times of day. And I have yet to see anybody integrate that yet, and that'll be interesting. But having the connectivity at the cabinet gives the engineering department that flexibility to allow them to implement things like that.
Christopher Mitchell: It effectively increases capacity of the roads, it lowers congestion but also lowers pollution then too, because cars are not idling as much.
David Young: Correct.
Christopher Mitchell: So it's a big deal.
David Young: It is. It is. That's exciting stuff. The other thing, partnering with the university to deploy the first testbed for wireless infrastructure in the Midwest. So the NEXT Program, Nebraska Experimental Testbed of Things. A good friend of mine, Dr. John Vernon, worked with the city to select several locations in the community and put advanced, I think 6G, 7G, research radios connected to that same fiber infrastructure, giving the university the ability to go out, utilize this infrastructure, and start testing real life scenarios on these next generation radios and antennas. So it's very exciting to see what a gigabit network can provide a city.
Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that you and I have talked about is in the agreement that you struck with Verizon and perhaps with some of the others. I think you get a port on the poles when they're putting up their small cells, when they replace a streetlight with a pole that is both a streetlight and an antenna for them. Are those ports starting to be utilized?
David Young: So Verizon is just now deploying. They've been deploying for about a year and a half, and the connectivity is getting to a point where the traffic department, the city can actually connect those poles to the backhaul network. That concept actually, if you look at the BDAC municipal model code, is in there.
Christopher Mitchell: The Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee from the FCC.
David Young: Thank you. Yes, that concept was actually popular enough even with the industry that they included it in that proposal. So whenever a new pole goes up, having an antenna on top is great, but also having a port with fiber access middle of the pole for a security camera, gunshot detection, an air quality monitoring station — having that connectivity there, radar not in a sense of radar for catching speeders more of radar for measuring traffic flow so you can inform the traffic signal half a mile down the road that it should, you know, stay green a second longer to get this group of cars through. So yes, it is in the early stages, but the connectivity is there. It'll be very interesting to see how Lincoln carries that forward in the near future
Christopher Mitchell: Here at Mountain Connect, one of the — were you there for the keynote this morning from the futurist?
David Young: Yes, yes. I thought he did a really good job.
Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, one of the things that I thought he is very correct — I was making fun of the tireless cars, not just wireless cars, but tireless cars because all the tire stores are apparently going away with no more drivers. But, boy, if you're not following my Twitter feed, you're really missing out, I'll tell you. But one of the things he talked about was sensors everywhere, and it sounds like that's something that's coming to Lincoln faster than other places.
David Young: So one of the things that we did work with Allo on as part of the overall structure was a concept of public VLANs, virtual local area networks. So if Allo has service into your house and they have an IP address, they can also provide the city a network and an IP address over the same infrastructure. This has been used commonly to create secure private networks across the United States. Banking institutions use them. And what we were looking at specifically in Lincoln was some kind of basic concepts. Having the public schools. Lincoln public schools have an SSID or a wireless address in a home, so a child could take home their Chromebook from the school and connect right into the network. We thought that would be a great use. We also thought the university having a research network that any university student living in Lincoln could connect into was a great idea. We were looking at AMR/AMI, automatic meter reading/automatic meter information system, using that same network to deploy LoRa radios around the city.
Christopher Mitchell: So if I can disambiguate —
David Young: I will talk about this for hours, Chris.
Christopher Mitchell: No, no, no, it's actually fascinating, but I want to make sure that people have a sense of what's happening. So, Allo has a fiber to a person's home and they have a wireless access point, and that wireless access point, you know, says like "Bob's wireless access point," but then it also says "public school district" or something like that.
David Young: Not yet. That's the idea.
Christopher Mitchell: Right, right.
David Young: So there's some engineering that has to go in it, but the agreements are there, the underlying technology is there. It's really for Lincoln now to implement — the public schools, the city, the university and Allo together to actually implement that technology.
Christopher Mitchell: Right. So let's imagine Bob's on his wireless network, the same access point. His child, Betty, has a Chromebook from the schools. She's also on the wireless network, but they really can't even see each other because logically they're actually on different networks. She's on this school network, and he's on his own network.
David Young: And the child in this example, Betty, it would just look like she was connected to the school Wi-Fi network to her equipment. She would know no different. Same filtering policies, same access to resources, same access to software, same tracking ability to look at, you know, did this person log in? Were they able to log in? What kind of quality connection did they have? All of that would be available. And to the public school, it would just look like the child was connected into the public school's network. That's one of the most exciting things I see coming down the pipe with that project is to be able to expand that and then have people who are signed up for that service opt into it. So you may not have children, but you may decide, just for a public good, I wanna go ahead and turn it on, you know, let wireless signals leak outside of homes all the time. And I think it would be very interesting to see the number of people, connections, the time of those connections. I think it'd be very interesting long term.
Christopher Mitchell: Absolutely. So, but let's get back to the sensors. What's happening with the sensors?
David Young: So Chicago has this project called the Array of Things. I don't know if you've seen that.
Christopher Mitchell: No, I thought since you had mentioned earlier the wastewater runoff —
David Young: Oh, I'm going to get there.
Christopher Mitchell: The massive underground thing they're building, it's really fascinating.
David Young: So, I was attending a conference and I met the guys from Chicago working on this. It's like part of the Argon national labs and very interesting what they're doing. They're deploying sensors, like standard sensors, around the city to look at noise and air pollution, things like that, and aggregating that data. And they've allowed other cities to — basically if you buy one of their preapproved sensors, you can hook into it and your community can also be part of this experiment. So in Lincoln, what we were looking at was more around flooding, right? So Lincoln's very flat. We've got a lot of water that comes through the watershed during certain times of year. And how do you model where that water is infiltrating the underground storm water and wastewater pipes? Well, right now the current state of technology is for between $20,000-40,000 per location tou can install flow monitoring sensors that includes power, fiber connection or copper connection. And what we wanted to do actually was work with the university to develop a low cost, battery powered sensor that we could deploy throughout the system and then surface rainwater sensors. And so, when a rain event happens, we can actually model across the city where rainwater was hitting the ground, how long it was taking to enter the system, where was it entering the system, and use that to create a new maintenance model that allowed us to very specifically target for replacement of stormwater and wastewater lines. Nobody's doing this right now, and it's very difficult to do it because the current state of the industry is very expensive for the sensors. Well, if you can do that and connect into the traffic network, all the main trunk lines go into the arterial streets where we'll have these wireless antennas and things like that. So it's very interesting to look at the future of smart cities around sensors and modeling for how the city spends its money and where should they spend money for repair of infrastructure.
Christopher Mitchell: Yes. And I think people may not appreciate how much of a cost there is around these things and if you're able to preemptively stop massive flooding, the amount of just value you can create. It's remarkable.
David Young: It's amazing to me how much we have yet to learn about the infrastructure we have, right? So a lot of cities, a percentage of cities were built starting in the 1800s. That infrastructure is still there. And it's being replaced slowly over time, but what kind of materials should we be using? What's the model that we should be using? Where should we be spending our money to get the most bang for the buck? It's underground pipe. It's not the most sexy thing to talk about, but it's very expensive. And when it's somebody digging up that underground pipe in your backyard, you would like that to not happen again anytime soon. So, it is some of the least sexy but most interesting stuff that I get to work on.
Christopher Mitchell: So have you actually looked into what they're doing in Chicago in terms of trying to capture all the rain water with this massive whole, like, cistern they're building underground?
David Young: I have not seen that. I was working with the Array of Things — not working with them, listening and talking kind of in preliminary conversations with them about, you know, if we brought this sensor online, how would we work with them and how could we partner with the university to deploy it on some of the university grounds first? Those kinds of things.
David Young: I think — I don't remember the exact numbers. Henry Grabar or Grabar — I don't know. He writes for Slate. He's an urban columnist type, urban planner type, and he talked about how they must be spending billions. I don't remember if it's tens of billions of dollars, but this is massive. I mean, it's an unbelievably large holding tank under Chicago to make sure that in the event of massive rain, they're not discharging sewage into the Great Lakes or the river. And it's interesting because other cities are trying to figure out how, instead of capturing all of this, trying to slow it. And I think the challenge is that nobody can properly model how you would slow it enough to do a good enough job to prevent the system from being overwhelmed, but with these kinds of sensors then, you can imagine doing that.
David Young: Yes, and that's the idea. So Lincoln's very fortunate. It does not have what's known as a combined sewer and storm water system. Many of the older communities, specifically communities that are on a river — St Louis, Kansas City, Omaha, Chicago — they have combined storm and sewer systems, and that's the problem. So when you have a rain event, it's too much water for the treatment plant to handle, and that's when you get a discharge event. And so that's why they're building these storage tanks. They're looking at alternative green infrastructure around diverting storm water away from these combined systems because to replace a combined system, I mean, it's a lifetime of work, first of all. Just the construction engineering and building of it.
Christopher Mitchell: Right. I mean the EPA I think has consent decrees that lay all this stuff out. It's very complicated. It'd be wonderful if you could just avoid that whole bureaucracy, and you know, we have some rain barrels in our yard. It's not hard, you know, like to try and do your part
David Young: It's not, but you need to have a plan. And so, it's interesting.
Christopher Mitchell: Well thank you, David. It's been another fun conversation, and I appreciate you taking some time.
David Young: Always a pleasure. Good to talk to you, Chris.
Christopher Mitchell: Absolutely.
Lisa Gonzalez: That was David Young, one of the key people instrumental in bringing Fiber-to-the-Home to Lincoln, Nebraska. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at muninetworks.org/broadbandbits. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @communitynets. Follow muninetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @muninetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other podcasts from ILSR, Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules Podcast. You can access them wherever you get your podcasts. You can catch the latest important research from all of our initiatives if you subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ilsr.org. While you're there, please take a moment to donate. Your support in any amount helps keep us going. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle licensed through Creative Commons, and thank you for listening to episode 364 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.