The legislature continued debate this week of carry-over bills as well as a few 2018 Senator Priority Bills. Senator Priority bills which were heard this week include LB750, LB755 and LB710. LB750 is a bill introduced by Senator Williams.
The bill would change provisions related to recording of real property documents and the rights and duties of secured creditors. LB750 advanced to select file. LB775 was introduced by Senator Stinner.
The bill would adopt the State Park System Construction Alternatives Act and would allow the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission to use alternative methods of contracting. A final vote has not been taken on the bill. LB710 introduced by Senator Baker would change provisions relating to civil claims.
It would allow a successful plaintiff in cases involving four thousand dollars or less to recover costs, interest and attorney’s fees. The bill advanced to select file. The deadline for designating a Senator Priority Bill is Feb.
20 and so we will be seeing even more discussion of new legislation in the coming weeks. The legislature passed several bills on final reading this week including one of my own. LB177 a carry-over bill I introduced on behalf of the Department of Motor Vehicles was passed by the legislature this week on final reading.
Several hearings in my committees this week drew a great deal of testimony. Transportation and Telecommunications Committee heard LB1009 introduced by Senator Murante. The bill would provide for an increase of the speed limit on certain super-two highways and interstate systems.
LB994 introduced by Senator Friesen would create a Rural Broadband Study Task Force to help enhance broadband telecommunications service to areas in rural Nebraska. I understand the importance of enhancing broadband in rural Nebraska and I am dedicated to finding ways to make real improvements in rural broadband. I will watch closely this and other proposals aimed at increasing broadband access.
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My Natural Resource Committee heard significant testimony this week on LB1123 introduced by Senator Groene.
LB1123 would make changes to future water rights and stream augmentation projects in regards to Natural Resource Districts and specifically addressing the N-CORPE project in Lincoln County, Nebraska. Another bill aimed at addressing property taxes was heard in the Revenue committee this week. LB1084, by Senator Briese was heard on Thursday, Feb.
8. This bill would adopt the Property Tax Request Limitation Act. LB1084 would address property tax relief by generating new revenue from changes in sales, excise and income tax and directing more revenue to state funding of K-12 education.
The bill would also increase the amount in the Property Tax Credit Cash Fund. I will continue to closely monitor legislation affecting property taxes and remain committed to property tax relief. I will continue to update you on legislation as bills move through the committee process and onto the floor for debate.
I appreciate hearing from constituents on issues affecting District 23 and encourage you to contact my office with any thoughts on legislation.
LINCOLN — In the 13 years since Nebraska lawmakers made a serious push to expand rural broadband service in the state, Kristen Gottschalk said she’s still waiting for even moderately fast Internet at her rural residence. She said she pays about £100 for satellite service, yet she can often download data faster over a low-level signal to her cellphone. And it’s not as if she lives on a remote ranch in the Sand Hills.
Instead, she’s just north of Wahoo, about 40 miles west of Omaha. “What we really have is a situation of digital poverty,” said Gottschalk, a lobbyist for the Nebraska Rural Electric Association, speaking in favor of a bill Monday that would encourage new approaches to expand rural broadband. Legislative Bill 994 would establish a goal that all Nebraskans have access to Internet service with a minimum download speed of 25 megabits per second and minimum upload speed of 3 megabits per second.
The bill also would create a rural broadband study task force to find ways to enable the industry to provide affordable service in the lowest-population areas of the state. The task force would consist of representatives of the telecommunications industry, the Legislature, state economic development officials, agribusiness, schools and others. The goal would be “to jump-start the process of bridging the digital divide between rural and urban Nebraska,” said State Sen.
Curt Friesen of Henderson, who introduced the bill. In addition, the measure would allow the Public Service Commission to award rural broadband grants to Internet providers that provide the lowest-cost bid. Called a reverse auction, the method could take away funds from companies currently operating in “unserved or underserved” areas of the state.
The Legislature last addressed rural broadband on a significant scale in 2005. The “backbone of service” has improved since then, but extending affordable service to customers on the last mile remains a financial challenge to companies, said Friesen, who is chairman of the Transportation and Telecommunications Commission. Lobbyists from ag groups, municipalities and public power districts testified in favor of the bill.
No one spoke in opposition, although lobbyists for the wireless communications and cable trade associations testified in a neutral capacity.
Demands for internet speed are rising fast among consumers, and the city of Loveland is exploring its options for how to cope. The Loveland City Council heard presentations from representatives of six internet providers during a study session Tuesday. The presentations were requested by a council rule of four Dec.
12 due to concerns about a pro-municipal broadband slant to the information they have received to date. Members of the council and city staff said repeatedly that they want a deal that will tend to the needs of Loveland internet customers who say they are being underserved by incumbent companies. Some councilors have also cited concerns about the city entering the business and competing with those same providers.
In 2015, over 82 percent of Loveland voters approved a ballot measure that allowed the city to provide a retail fiber-to-the-premise broadband utility. The ballot question stipulated that the city cannot raise taxes to fund it.
Presentations In addition to asking each company to discuss the “possible benefits, pitfalls, and concerns” of municipal broadband, the letter of invitation asked four specific questions: each company’s Customer Satisfaction Index number; an example of a like-sized municipal fiber network that each company has installed and is operating; examples of public-private partnerships that each company is currently participating in where the company has reduced the municipalities’ liability and risk; and, what percentage of a municipal fiber installation cost each company would be willing to fund.
Certain proprietary details could not be revealed in presentations to preserve each company’s competitive edge. The companies represent six of the 10 who responded to Loveland’s request for proposals for gigabit speed public-private partnership broadband fiber networks. One gigabit is equal to 1,024 megabits of speed per second.
o Allo Communications Brad Moline, president of fiber-to-the-premise provider Allo, highlighted the company’s prior experience deploying municipal fiber networks in Nebraska in Lincoln, North Platte, Scottsbluff and Gering. The company is also starting a 40-year partnership with the city of Fort Morgan this year to provide gigabit speed internet over the city’s existing fiber network backbone.
While the project’s total construction cost would determine Allo’s investment in the Loveland network, Moline said most Allo markets are self-funded. In Loveland, Allo would offer a 20-50 percent capital expenditure plus a lease. Allo offers fiber internet, fiber TV and phone services for residences, and several additional business services.
Moline said Allo would be willing to move quickly to bring connectivity to everyone in the Loveland community, although properties in remote areas of the county would be connected on a case-by-case basis. Moline said that before the city undertakes a municipal broadband initiative alone, it should keep in mind its experience in operations, the depth of the product set it can offer, and the scale that it can deploy its services to keep the prices low. Additionally, Moline warned the city to beware of the speed at which technology changes.
“That’s the hardest thing for municipalities that I’ve seen, is acting or reacting to, for lack of a better term, that open checkbook — to modify as the technology modifies,” Moline said. o CenturyLink Representatives from CenturyLink also emphasized the emergence of new technology, like wireless networks and 5G connectivity, as risk factors that necessitate flexibility in a city-sponsored broadband system. Abel Chavez, state government affairs director for CenturyLink, said that in the event of a partnership with the city, CenturyLink is looking forward to improving its services and improving its technological offerings.
Nextlight installer Chris Downing feeds a fiber optic cable, a copper wire used to locate utility lines and a rope to pull additional lines through a vault in the ground near Heatherhill Circle and Renaissance Drive in Longmont.
Longmont voters decided in 2011 they wanted municipal broadband and by 2014 the city system was serving customers. Loveland is now looking into municipal broadband options. (Matthew Jonas / Longmont Times-Call) CenturyLink provides internet, TV and phone, and is exploring “over-the-top” service, which means allowing users to stream TV channels from the internet instead of subscribing to a traditional cable or satellite TV plan.
They have recently introduced no-contract pricing. A large part of CenturyLink’s pitch to Loveland related to improving their customer service and filling in the city’s CenturyLink coverage gaps. Currently, CenturyLink’s customer service is rated “likely to recommend” by customers according to one metric, Chavez said.
“We stand ready to work with you,” Chavez said to council. o Comcast Four of Comcast’s Mountain West regional staff members spoke to council about Comcast’s strengths. Comcast’s network reaches almost 38,000 housing units and the vast majority of 4,300 businesses in Loveland, and Comcast customers and its customers pay over £1 million to the city in fees and taxes, the presentation said.
Comcast has about 75 employees in Loveland, and about 750 employees in all of Northern Colorado. Comcast offers five different contract-products and a variety of bundled services. The representatives said that in the event of a partnership with the city, providing service to every residence and business in Loveland might be cost prohibitive, but they would look into it.
“We look forward to spending more and more money connecting more and more businesses to our network,” said John Lehmann, senior director for government and regulatory affairs. “If somebody’s willing to pay for it, we’ll get it there,” he said. Comcast representatives also emphasized that the company is spending about £1.5 billion in the next two to three years to improve their customer support. They assured the council that the majority of phone calls to their offices and help lines are answered from within the U.S.
Comcast does not offer symmetrical 1 Gbps service — meaning upload and download — for residences because the demand is not in the market, representatives said. However, Comcast does offer symmetrical 2 Gbps residential speeds for about £300 per month. Lehmann said Comcast is making an investment in being 20 years ahead with its technology.
Comcast representatives said Loveland would make a strong choice to partner with them, but if not, they would not leave town. o Foresite Group Representatives of the engineering and design firm Foresite Group emphasized that they offer a broadband option that poses low risk to the city.
Ben Lewis-Ramirez, a business development manager at Foresite, said the construction price estimates the city received — in the neighborhood of £100,000 for a public-private partnership — were “based on faulty assumptions.” Lewis-Ramirez proposed that his company could help engineer an open-access network for the city, and cover up to 100 percent of the cost to build it using their connections with private investors. He suggested that in a partnership with Foresite, the city would build the required broadband infrastructure, and then allow service providers to operate on that network.
Lewis-Ramirez said the council’s key requirements for Loveland’s network — affordability, high speed, ubiquity of access, reliability and excellence of customer service — cannot be met by a single provider. One benefit to this type of setup is prices would go down, Lewis-Ramirez said. “If the network is shared by all the providers in the market, the only way they can compete with one another are in the areas of customer service and price,” Lewis-Ramirez said.
Additionally, in a city-owned network, the city would be able to collect a fee from internet providers for each customer they sign up on the network. Customers would also be able to switch between providers at will, Lewis-Ramirez said. Councilors remarked that this suggestion was very different from those it had heard before.
“I just invite you to open your minds to another possibility,” Lewis-Ramirez said. o Mox Networks Mox Networks approaches broadband as an open access network.
But, the Culver City, California-based company is different in that Mox Networks is chiefly a custom fiber optic network developer and operator, rather than an engineer, a representative said. The company has expertise in construction project management, network operations and network architecture and design, a spokesman said. The company is also focused on managing relationships, he said, stating he did not want to enter a debate on whether Loveland’s network would be called a city utility.
“They really wanted to drive some of the free-market principles … really create an ecosystem with multiple different service types, multiple different service providers, and their ability to deliver service and minimize their end users by doing that,” the Mox spokesman said. He said he could not estimate the prices of a Mox-managed network, but said the city would have control of over costs it imposes on companies who use its infrastructure. o Sherpa Fiber A representative of Sherpa Fiber said the company’s concept is to “simply help the city out by building a dark fiber backbone with a large abundance of fiber strands available.”
Councilor John Fogle told the representative the city of Loveland already has a dark fiber network through Platte River Power Authority. Next week, council will vote to allow city staff to move forward with the Loveland Broadband Task Force’s recommendations, including that the city begin soliciting bids. City Council meetings occur at 500 E.
Third St., Loveland.
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