Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 285

This is the transcript for episode 285 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Christopher Mitchell sits down with David Young of Lincoln, Nebraska, again to discuss 5G and competition. Listen to this episode here.

David Young: It's definitely a passion for Lincoln. Oftentimes you hear stories about how government restricts investment our government hampers investment the Lincoln broadband model was specifically designed to encourage investment. You

Lisa Gonzalez: You are listening to episode 285 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. We always like reporting on Lincoln, Nebraska. The community of about 280000 people in the eastern side of the state started with a plan to install conduit to attract private providers. Over the past few years their investment has attracted an ISP interested in providing fiber to the premise began a small cell project for better local mobile service and increased competition. Nebraska is one of around 20 states with laws that usurp local telecommunications authority. Lincoln found a way to make local lemonade out of state lemons. When Christopher attended the broadband community's economic development conference in Atlanta in November he had the opportunity to talk with David Young. David has been on the show before and took some time to share an update on what's been going on with Lincoln. And there is a lot. Now here's Christopher with David Young from Lincoln, Nebraska.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcasts coming to you live from a hotel room overlooking the Atlanta runway's which you may hear from time to time. This is Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Once again with David Young the fiber infrastructure and right of way manager from Lincoln Nebraska. Welcome back. Thank you. Thank you Chris. It's great to have you back. As you said there has been many people at this event where broadband communities in Atlanta for the fall series of the economic development gathering. It's a wonderful event and everyone who's here has listened to you apparently on a podcast in the past. That's been nice.

David Young: That or they're just being really nice. I don't know

Christopher Mitchell: Right. The fact that they're aware that you and I get together, I'll take that.

David Young: Yes. I think everybody who listens to your podcast is here.

Christopher Mitchell: Let's so let's just recap very briefly. What's interesting about Lincoln? What you've done. That you don't tell us everything, but for people who haven't gone back yet but will go back upon listening to this show. What's a very quick thumbnail sketch of what you've done in Lincoln?

David Young: So what Lincoln did was build a broadband infrastructure model that complies with existing restrictive state laws but yet encouraged investment of over $200 million in broadband in our community we have competitive access we have affordable access. We have net neutrality provisions and we have infrastructure all by creating a plan and partnering with the private sector to deliver that plan

Christopher Mitchell: And who are you partnering with?

David Young: Oh the list.

Christopher Mitchell: Well let's talk in particular, the fiber to the home company.

David Young: Fiber-to-the-Home is Allo communications,

Christopher Mitchell: Allo -- A L L O.

David Young: Yes. French for hello I believe. Not Google, Allo which is a different thing.

Christopher Mitchell: They stole it.

David Young: Yes that was very interesting to see in the stadium this last weekend.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes and the University of Minnesota Football Games we also have the Allo ads.

David Young: Yes. And you can't tell us is it a good thing or a bad thing. I don't know. I don't think Allo appreciates it. Allo communications at least. But it is kind of interesting. Everybody thinks that Google by Allo communications. How did that happen?

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah no, name collisions are brutal, yes. Now the other piece of what you've done you have this wonderful conduit which I'm going to sideline. People can learn a bunch of your previous podcasts as every attendee of this conference knows. And we did a separate discussion. I was also talking about small cells. What's Lincoln doing on small cells? and this is one of my favorite things. What's your main motivation on small cells?

David Young: We're really focused on fiber business and Fiber-to-the-Home. Fiber for Mobile is the next frontier for Lincoln, and so small cells encouraging the investment in small cells by creating a standard process or a standard poll and a standard path to yes for carriers has been very exciting.

David Young: We have I think 45 polls that were approved in this last group of permits are submitted and we have another 45 50 polls will be submitted even before the end of the year. And our goal is to deploy 200 small cells in the next year to half and up to 500 by 2020. And

Christopher Mitchell: you've discussed how you've already have a contract with Verizon. You're not actually the one deploying you're enabling them and working with them to get it done.

David Young: We do. Verizon contracts with the city. We also have a contract with Sprint and before the city council in two weeks we have a contract with and that which is AT&T vendor. And so our goal is to have all three carriers with contracts before the end of 17 and then next year if T-Mobile is listening you should give me a call.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that I always enjoy about your discussion is that there is a focus about what the proper role of the city is in many of us would like to see cities that are getting an appropriate compensation that's commensurate with some of the value of using public rights of way for the billing equipment. But the focus should be on enabling investment in the community and that's something that you've kind of had your priorities lined up on.

David Young: It's definitely a passion for Lincoln. Oftentimes you hear stories about how government restricts investment our government hampers investment the Lincoln broadband model was specifically designed to encourage investment so fast churn times on permits. Easy to understand agreements. Fair compensation for both parties. Really at the core of what we do. It's a very customer service focused program and the customers in this instance are the infrastructure providers. So cable companies telephone companies broadband companies cell phone companies. We want to do business with them. We want the investment in Lincoln and we do that by making ourselves fair easy to understand and making the process very clear. And we've been rewarded with over 200 million dollars in private investment starting this program.

Speaker 8: So one of the things that you've also been rewarded with is a kind of seat at the table with state negotiations. We haven't talked about it a lot on this show but there are many discussions at the state level some of them don't have a whole lot of representation from the municipal side. But your experiences give you credibility and you were able to talk with some of these folks who are on the industry's side maybe pushing too hard and making overly broad promises about what's going to happen if the state kind of steamrolls municipal networks to let sit these big companies do whatever they want.

David Young: So yes last year I was involved in the small cell bill that was in Nebraska and I think 30 other state bills many of which failed. A few of which passed and several other ones were passed are now being litigated. The challenge is there's always two sides to every story. Some of the hesitance by communities to allow this infrastructure to be built is understandable based on past behavior of a few players in the industry. Fast forward 20 years municipalities haven't forgot that and they're very challenged with some of these models. But the reality is we need to deploy the infrastructure and not every community is like Lincoln welcoming people with open arms and standard agreements and have put the work in to build those models so the carriers are going to the state they went to the Fed in 2015 and were denied.

David Young: So now they're going to the states. Some states senators don't necessarily understand the technology and some do.

David Young: But in Nebraska specifically the carriers came in and committed to the mantra they were using was just going to be the answer for rural broadband. And we asked for commitments specific monetary commitments timelines schedules for when they were going to deploy in rural broadband with the specificity in place we would be happy to support a state wide agreement. The carriers backed off and said no it really wasn't about rural broadband now it's about you know paying too much. Wow. We have a market rate approach to how we created our leasing model. Here's the infrastructure and you guys agreed to it. OK well it's not about that then and now it's about process. So I think it's a little disingenuous sometimes. And if we're all going to have a you know open and honest conversation yes we need to deploy the infrastructure yes we need to make the process fair.

David Young: Yes the compensation needs to be fair. If you're going to as a carrier if you're going to commit to a trillion dollars of infrastructure for rural America. Great. Let's talk about a public utility model where you know the attachments are ten dollars. If you're not going to do that and I don't see anybody lining up to do that then I think you should pay market rates. I think that's fair.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that you and I have talked about and I use in my presentation to the entire room taking full credit myself is for this builds on something that people should be aware of which is there's a lot of talk about 5G as though it will be a big solution in rural areas. First of all the 5G specification hasn't settled what it is. It is not widely believed to be particularly friendly to rural. It's more of an urban kind of technology.

David Young: Right. Short range high bandwidth. Yes.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. And so there is definitely a sense many of us that industry is just telling a credulous group of legislators anything to get their way. Now you suggested that hey if this is the claim that this is going be great for rural America how about the just report you know some of them invest more their investments are so we can have a sense over multiple years whereas this technology being deployed. How was that received.

David Young: It's challenging. Mean you don't want to paint your the other side of the table as being dishonest or having nefarious goals in mind their business and they're trying to do business for themselves. I appreciate that. I think that that's where the voters expect that the city to come in and play fair. It should be the service should be for everybody.

David Young: As you know the carriers push back on all requests for any reporting or or any kind of mandated deployment schedule or service for all that's just not a model they want to be in. It's interesting what's happening at the FCC right now whether or not broadband will remain a title to infrastructure and whether that will be pushed onto cellular communications. And if it is I think you have an interesting model there. But right now under this administration I don't think that's going to happen.

Christopher Mitchell: Let's switch gears a little bit to talk about U.S. ignite that's what's going on with you'll see that people will be aware of what does U.S. ignite.

David Young: Honestly very exciting stuff right now a lot of buzz in the municipal broadband community. Yes Ignite is a partnership between National Science Foundation and Northwestern University. And what they're doing is creating programs to utilize next generation gigabit networks US Ignite has several programs smart gigabit communities power platform for advanced wireless research and gigabit applications.

David Young: And they are creating coalitions of cities to work together on these problems and in order to be in the game you have to have a gigabit community you have to have a fibre network. And it's very exciting. Some of the things are working on even not being awarded grants just the process of going through creating your collaboration with US Ignite which anybody can find out more information at US hyphen ignite dot org. It really has caused our community our Chamber of Commerce our university our city our nonprofit organizations to come together and start looking at next generation what are we doing to research how we're using these networks and the economic value of the network to our community specifically the power projects are amazing. Even though Lincoln was not awarded the power project we're moving forward with building a test bed for wireless next next generation wireless infrastructure by partnering with five different industries.

David Young: And it's amazing just having the conversation. So yes ignite really I think he's doing very good work and raising the bar for communities who now have gigabit networks on how to use them and who to partner with. Do

Christopher Mitchell: you feel like you would be doing these sorts of interesting things if you weren't involved in some level with expanding infrastructure and improving infrastructure in the city.

David Young: You know it's tough. I love what I do. I love the industry that I work in. I don't know of a more exciting infrastructure to work with really.

Christopher Mitchell: So let me ask you how do you think US Ignite makes a difference in Lincoln in coming years? I mean you mentioned that there was like this partnership more people working together.

David Young: What's actually happening on the ground in Lincoln. US Ignite is working with us to connect our coworking space to our supercomputer at the University with the 10 gig network and then taking that infrastructure and connecting it to internet too. So entrepreneurs in the coworking space and Lincoln will be able to access 30 city gigabit initiatives to work on those applications via 10 gig to 100 gig connection at no cost. So that is exciting for us. That's one thing we had not thought of doing until talking with us ignite on their SGC smart gigabit communities project and we hope to have that live first quarter of 2018.

Christopher Mitchell: Great. Well thank you David for coming back on the show and I look forward to having you again in 2018 with some exciting new project.

Christopher Mitchell: Good to talk to you Chris as always. Thanks.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with David Young from Lincoln, Nebraska. We've interviewed David before on the podcast so be sure to check out other conversations about Lincoln's projects and stories we've written. To learn more we have transcripts from this and other podcasts available at many networks dot org slash broadband bits. Email us at podcast at me dot org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets. Follow stories on Twitter where the handle's @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other

ILSR podcasts: building local power and the local energy rules podcast you can access them from Apple podcasts stitcher or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research by also subscribing to our monthly newsletter at eyeless our dot org. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song "Warm Duck Shuffle" licensed through Creative Commons and thanks for listening to episode 285 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast.