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THURSDAY, AUG. 23 — A lawsuit filed by the Lansing Board of Water & Light seeks to recover thousands of dollars in damages after a local internet provider bored into an underground electrical line and knocked out power for dozens of residents.
A complaint filed last week in 30th Circuit Court contends Lightspeed Communications last year ignored warnings from BWL officials, and destroyed an underground electrical line on the east side of Cambridge Street. More than $26,000 in damage caused 30 homes to lose power for about 16 hours, according to the lawsuit.
And BWL officials — after invoices to Lightspeed were left unpaid — are turning to a judge to sort out the bills.
Lightspeed Founder and CEO Jason Schreiber shifted blame back to BWL. He said he only ignored subsequent invoices for the damage because BWL failed to properly flag the site before his company started digging for underground fiber-optic lines. He considered the matter settled, but now plans to push back against the lawsuit.
“Lightspeed is eagerly trying to bring fiber to the home to every neighborhood in the City of Lansing, and I believe this lawsuit is just one more example of BWL attempting to inhibit our progress,” Schreiber added. “The Board’s permitting policies are out of step with the national trend and as a consequence, has slowed the pace.”
Employees with both companies last August met at the site to discuss the excavation plans. BWL then warned Lightspeed about the overlapping underground lines, and cautioned employees to direct their digging elsewhere, according to the complaint. Lightspeed in November instructed staff to “dig anyway,” according to the lawsuit.
Unpaid invoices sent in December and again in January prompted BWL to take the issue into a courtroom. Yolanda Bennett, attorney for the public utility provider, and BWL Chairman David Price declined an interview. A spokesperson for the utility company said comments are “limited” amid the ongoing litigation.
“The BWL has a proven track record of encouraging business development in our service territory,” according to a statement. “We have procedures and policies in place to protect the public and our infrastructure. When these procedures and policies are breached, we have a fiduciary duty to recover the cost incurred by our ratepayers.”
Schreiber, however, feels the lawsuit might only be the bitter cherry on a cake already baked with obstruction. BWL makes it overly difficult to connect local neighborhoods to fiber-speed internet systems, he contended. The lawsuit will only slow down the work his company is doing to bring Lansing up to “insanely fast” speeds.
“BWL permitting is the number one factor in determining our rollout pace in Lansing,” Schreiber added.
New fiber-optic internet lines need to be installed along every city street before service can be connected, Schreiber explained. The “customary practice” in his business is to use existing utilities already installed in the area. In this instance, most of the utilities in Lansing are installed on poles that are already owned by BWL.
Other utilities on those poles often need adjustment before another can move in. Sometimes lines need to be moved up or down a few inches to bring it into compliance with regulatory codes. But BWL requires Lightspeed to seek a permit from every other utility using the space before it approves any new additions, Schreiber said.
And “here’s where the trouble begins,” Schreiber explained.
Lightspeed — under current BWL policies — is forced to first seek permission from its primary competitors like AT&T or Comcast with no mandate of a timely response. “Even worse,” Schreiber explained, the permit requests must also include a detailed disclosure of his rollout plans and poses an obvious business risk.
“Even if only one pole is held up in a neighborhood, our permit can be delayed by BWL until the third-parties grant permission,” Schreiber said, further noting that BWL also limits the number of simultaneous permits that can be submitted at any given time and ultimately hinders his company’s ability to expand internet services.
Officials at BWL declined to address Schreiber’s concerns with City Pulse. Communications staff refused to connect a reporter with General Manager Dick Peffley and insisted a previously emailed statement — which didn’t mention any specific policies or procedures — was a sufficient explanation of their business practices.
The lawsuit isn’t yet scheduled for a hearing but was assigned to Judge Joyce Draganchuk for further review. Lightspeed hasn’t filed a response to the complaint, but Schreiber said his attorneys plan to do so within the next few weeks.
Visit www.lansingcitypulse.com for continued coverage as the case continues.