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Legislative proposal could improve broadband service in rural areas

(KNOP)
Published: Mar. 7, 2018 at 4:06 PM CST
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District 15 Senator Lynn Walz proposed LB1113 in January.

The bill, if passed, would create an opportunity for public/private partnerships to use "dark fiber," for better connection possibilities in rural areas.

"Dark fiber" is fiber that is installed during regular installation, but is "extra, un-lit fiber." When installed, more than is necessary is included, and now, Walz is proposing that this "extra" fiber be made available for companies (public and private) to access so that rural areas can have better connection rates.

Kyle Blakeman is a farmer and rancher just west of Merna. He said he knows of people just north of him who cannot even get internet in their homes.

He made the point that rural Nebraskans use internet for more than just social media. In fact, he said that being connected is something that he and other farmers depend on.

Blakeman said it is frustrating waiting for uploads. "I mean farmers are pinched for time as it is, and you have a $500,000 combine sitting there, and you don't want to wait for the data to upload."

The manufacturers of farming equipment are ahead of those who supply connection. And Blakeman said that aps are requiring more and more data all the time.

Farm machinery (including tractors, combines, planters, and pivots) is frequently equipped with very modern technology meant to help farmers get the best yields, and to save time and money.

Rick Nelson, General Manager of Custer Public Power said, "If there's fiber out there that somebody else can use to give our customers in our rural area a higher speed broadband type of connection, I think that's a win win for everybody."

The bill would allow access of unused "dark fiber." Fiber would be brought up, and a connection box would be added - making a connection box available every so often, and then an entity could utilize that dark fiber to provide more connectivity. Permission at the state level for partnerships is necessary, however, before the connection boxes can be placed.

Nelson made it clear that the public power department does not want to "sell" gigabytes of data. "I just want to get fiber to some of my locations and have the opportunity for some of our customers to gain off that, as well," said Nelson.