Mayor Don Wesely said today the City Council should prioritize the public interest in economic development and allow the Lincoln Electric System (LES) to use its fiber optic lines to assist businesses that want the service.
“This is all about economic development,” Wesely said. “A lack of multiple telecommunications providers often is cited as a weakness in attracting high-tech jobs to Lincoln. Businesses have said repeatedly they need redundant service for their high-tech operations and they want it from multiple providers. This is our opportunity to improve our economic competitiveness.”
Fiber optic lines are bundles of hair-thin strands capable of transmitting large amounts of data. Fiber optic service has become essential to the operation of many businesses. LES now uses part of its fiber optic capacity to run the utility, but is seeking to make the unused portion available for use.
Redundant fiber optic service means that if one telecommunications provider goes down for any reason, a business can switch smoothly to a second provider without interrupting its business operations. Many business owners would prefer to have redundant service from separate providers in Lincoln. But because of the limited number of private providers, business owners do not have the redundancy they need in Lincoln.
“As Mayor, I’ve faced more than one frustrating economic development project because the redundancy issue was a stumbling block,” Wesely said. “That doesn’t make any sense, when LES stands ready to provide it.”
The LES fiber is not a threat to private telecommunications companies, Wesely said. By offering redundant service, LES actually will complement the service local businesses receive from private telecommunications companies.
“Lincoln should capitalize on the public investment available in publicly owned fiber to stimulate job creation,” Wesely said. “The community’s interests have been hampered long enough by legal wrangling. The courts have said we can proceed, and the time to act is now.”
Wesely also said Councilman Glenn Friendt’s proposed amendment to the ordinance places “unworkable limits on LES’s ability to offer the fiber to business,” and he urged the City Council to reject the amendment.
“The Friendt amendment or any similar language that would restrict LES to leasing the fiber only to the existing telecommunication provider is no compromise,” Wesely said. “That amendment does not address the demand for redundancy from multiple providers. The Friendt amendment or other similar language only continues to padlock the fiber the community owns.”
Wesely said the Lincoln Journal Star made a strong argument for the LES position when it stated “the telecommunications lobby persuaded a majority of state senators to pass a law that padlocked the door.”
“The Nebraska Supreme Court unlocked the door, and the City Council should not be afraid to open it,” said Mayor Wesely. “The private marketplace will determine if the LES fiber could be a valuable economic development tool. Common sense dictates that it is time for Lincoln to use all of its resources.”
Once the City Council has approved the ordinance allowing LES to offer its fiber, the LES Administrative Board will establish the operating policies.
“That is why LES has a Board,” Wesely said. “There is no reason to pre-empt the LES Board process that is commonly cited as a very good model in the community. The much lower than average electric rates the system provides prove that the LES Board has performed well over the years.”
Wesely encouraged LES to develop policies governing the fiber that: