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What’s stalling fiber Internet in Lansing?

Lightspeed says BWL delays network rollout


As fiber Internet lines connect to local neighborhoods, at least one service provider contends the Lansing Board of Water & Light has stalled progress by falling behind on nationally recognized standards.

For years, Jason Schreiber, the CEO of Lightspeed Communications, has looked to expand “revolutionary” Internet speeds to Lansing neighborhoods through new, fiber-optic data lines installed on virtually every utility pole within the city. It’s no easy feat, he contended.

But outdated rules from the BWL are the largest obstacles stalling the expansion, he said. Lightspeed’s initial goal was to connect the entire city of Lansing. Now, the local company is turning its focus to other communities across the state — such as Ypsilanti and Huntington Woods — to keep business moving.

“Admittedly, this is new territory for BWL,” Schreiber explained. “There are no other companies doing what we’re doing. We’re literally trying to attach to every pole in the city. When we’re denied access, that means at least four or five homes will never be reached. We’re really doing all that we can within this process.”

Fiber Internet connections, for the uninitiated, offer gigabit-speed download times by bouncing light signals through small, flexible, glass wires that run through larger, protective cables. The average Internet connection runs at 18.7 megabits per second.

Fiber can run up to a gigabit — or 1,000 megabits — per second.

Put simply, you can download more faster with fiber than standard broadband. But not when providers like Lightspeed are forced to follow timelines largely decided by their primary competitors before they’re able to lay down any new neighborhood networks.

“I don’t think there have been any active attempts to restructure how we’re working with BWL,” Schreiber said. “They haven’t changed anything. We have permit requests in now and it’s the maximum number that we’re allowed to submit. We’re just waiting.”

New Internet lines — regardless of the service provider — need to be installed along every city street before service can be connected. The “customary practice” in the business is to use existing utilities already installed in the area, Schreiber said. And in Lansing, most of the utilities are installed on poles 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 them into compliance with regulatory codes. But the BWL requires providers to seek a permit from every other utility using those spaces before any newcomers can arrive.

And here’s where the trouble begins for Lightspeed, Schreiber said.

“We have to be somewhat surgical in how we approach coverage expansion because of these limitations,” Schreiber added. “BWL is our most important partner here. They own the poles. We want to work with them.”

The Federal Communications Commission voted in August to adopt onetouch, make-ready policies for most pole attachments. The practice essentially allows for one contractor — usually paid by the company requesting expansion — to make all of the necessary adjustments without waiting for each individual company to move.

The one-touch system, in other communities nationwide, has streamlined a process that in some cases has forced service providers to wait years while their competitors slowly make space. But in Michigan, where telecommunications are regulated at the state level, the FCC’s vote can only offer guidance.

And the BWL hasn’t taken action to help expedite any of the outstanding permit requests, Schreiber explained.

“Everybody else — like Consumer’s Energy and DTE — is doing this,” Schreiber said. “This is just the arrangement that works best. There are so many people on our Facebook that complain when we’re not in their area. It makes me wince because there is nobody more interested in covering these neighborhoods than I am.”

Dick Peffley, the general manager at BWL, said Lightspeed’s competitors are understandably slow to respond to requests that would ultimately reduce their share of the local telecommunications market. But he hasn’t heard any complaints from any other companies, so he hasn’t placed the issue at the top of his priority list, he said.

“Everybody else seems to be satisfied with our rates and our rules and regulations here,” Peffley said. “If there are suggestions out there, I’d think we’d want to look into them.”

Peffley said he would “check in and see” how to expedite the utility adjustment process. He suggested a letter from the BWL could encourage companies to respond to the requests in a more timely manner, but he said he has no urgent plans to bring the issue to the board.

“When they add to our poles, we get revenue and that helps keep the rates lower for our customers,” Peffley added. “We want this too. They’re just frustrated they can’t move quickly enough. If we can be more forceful, maybe we should. We can look into that, but I don’t want to get sued by every other utility on those poles.”

Kevin Schoen, the CEO of ACD, another local Internet and telephone service provider, said he hasn’t had an issue with BWL’s regulations but said his company is more narrowly focused on commercial instead of residential service. He doesn’t necessarily share the same hurdles as Lightspeed, he said.

“Sometimes when the government implements rules, nobody gets what they want,” Schoen suggested. “Sometimes it can be more efficient to interact with each other to accomplish a goal. Government regulations are more of a blunt instrument than a finely tuned scalpel.”

BWL Board Chairman David Price said he never heard a complaint from Lightspeed and would only look into the matter at Peffley’s request. Commissioners don’t get involved in day-to-day operations and procedures, he repeatedly emphasized.

Schreiber previously met with both Peffley and former Mayor Virg Bernero to address his concerns without much progress. And until something changes, he hopes customers can at least understand the continued delay.

“We want to work with BWL and hopefully change some of these policies,” Schreiber added. “Until then, we’re just going to continue to follow the rules as they’ve been written.”

Visit lansingcitypulse.com for previous and continued coverage on Lightspeed Communications.


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