Value of new speedy internet option in downtown Lincoln debated

By Reed Samson, NewsNetNebraska

Within a month, Lincoln’s downtown district will have a new high speed internet service available that — theoretically — few other metro communities nationwide will be able to keep up with.

On Feb. 28, Mayor Chris Beutler announced an agreement with NebraskaLink, a broadband service company with headquarters in Lincoln, to extend its fiber optic network downtown using a $700,000 conduit grid the city had recently installed.

Beutler’s aim is to create a fast, affordable and reliable broadband connection to attract entrepreneurs and retain current businesses, according to the mayor’s news release.

NebraskaLink boasts Lincoln will have internet speed available that is ten times faster than Kansas City’s Google Fiber broadband service, which has received national media coverage for it’s impact on the city.

Danny Schreiber, managing editor at the Silicon Prairie News, said there were companies moving into Google Fiber capable houses just for the upgraded internet, although he says the vision may be behind the technology for now.

“What the possibilities are is completely unseen, but the suspicion is something big,” Schreiber said.

Google is expanding its fiber service to Austin, Texas, and a few other communities are providing their own high-speed internet, but there are less than a dozen areas nationwide with gigabit speed capabilities, according to pcmag.com.

“It’s a small group,” he said.  “You never know it could be a big payoff.”

Nebraska Global managing principal Steve Kiene disagrees. He deals directly with funding and mentoring start-up businesses in Nebraska and said we have enough low-cost broadband options already.

“I do not think internet speed will draw any talented entrepreneurs to Lincoln,” he said. “You can buy 100mb connections for not much money today and I don’t know any startups that have anything that fast in Lincoln.”

The Nebraska Global offices use 200 megabits per second and Kiene said they don’t even come close to maxing that power.  To put that in perspective, 1,000 megabits is equal to one gigabit.

“I challenge anyone who says this will help startups,” he said. “It simply won’t. It will help large, existing downtown businesses, but you can count those on one hand.”

NebraskaLink CEO Paul Ludwick said the service will be available in April or May. Customers will be able to use what they want, but the data transfer speed can theoretically reach up to 10 gigabits per second, though reaching that speed is unlikely for a variety of reasons. That’s about 1,000 times faster than the broadband connection most US citizens have at home.


View Downtown Conduit Grid in a larger map

“Access to a variety of broadband services and providers is becoming an expectation and is certainly integral to creating a positive business climate,” Mayor Beutler said in the news release announcing the fiber deal. “It’s estimated there are more than 1,000 business and governmental entities employing over 40,000 people in (downtown Lincoln) alone.”

NebraskaLink supplies the connection in bulk, but Ludwick says the speed will trickle down to smaller businesses and residential areas within the grid. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is within the confines of the conduit, but there have been no official agreements reached between the two parties.

“We have a pretty strong relationship with the Board of Regents, and were working to make that stronger across the university,” Ludwick said.

In addition to another option for fast reliable internet, Beutler said the conduit system will provide a new revenue stream for the City as providers lease space. For the next 20 years, the city will lease space in the conduit for $65,000 a year.

“The availability of telecommunication options was identified a primary need for existing business to grow and entrepreneurs to flourish,” said Wendy Birdsall, President of the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce. “That was why we supported the conduit project last year.

“Hopefully more companies will see Lincoln as an opportunity for growth and that our city supports the necessary investments for new business.”

The installation of the downtown conduit cost $700,000 which came from the City’s Fast Forward Fund.  It was timed to coincide with a major downtown street rehabilitation project.

“It might be of benefit to a couple of the larger downtown businesses in the near term,” Kiene said. “Long term, who knows, but it wasn’t that much additional money in the cost of the road work to put in the conduit, so it was worth doing.”

However, Kiene doubts the impact faster internet will have on new businesses, calling the Google Fiber media attention “hype.” He said the few companies that moved to Kansas City for the internet are following a fad that won’t last.

“I think those people are hype chasers,” Kiene said. “I don’t want people like that to come to Lincoln. I want people to come here who want to build quality companies that will last and that will still be hiring people in 5 years for high paying jobs.”

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