Skip Main Navigation
Official Nebraska Government Website
Skip Side Navigation

Transportation and Telecommunications Committee Holds Broadband Hearings

The Nebraska Legislature’s Transportation and Telecommunications Committee held three hearings as part of the interim study (LR 176) to examine the provision of broadband telecommunication services within the state. Nearly 30 individuals representing the Nebraska Public Service Commission, telecommunications industry, public power, agricultural producers, small businesses, local government, and the State of Nebraska’s Office of the CIO testified at the hearings in McCook, Central City and Lincoln the week of Nov. 27.

Several themes emerged from the hearings:

Broadband is critical for businesses, health care providers, and agricultural producers in Nebraska, as well as citizens seeking online educational opportunities.

Broadband availability in Nebraska is improving, but some rural areas remain underserved. Several providers testified about recent infrastructure upgrades that have been made and plans for future improvements. A number of providers have deployed or are planning to deploy fiber to the premise. Nevertheless, 17% of Nebraskans cannot get broadband of 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps up and are considered unserved or underserved according to Cullen Robbins, Director of Communications and NUSF, Nebraska Public Service Commission.

Cost is the biggest barrier to the deployment of broadband services especially in sparsely populated rural areas.

Support from the Nebraska Universal Service Fund (NUSF) and the federal Connect America Fund is making it possible for telecommunications providers to deploy fiber further out in their networks. However, support from the NUSF has been declining. Providers voiced support for the Nebraska Public Service Commission’s efforts to modernize and stabilize the NUSF. The need for greater accountability from providers for the use of NUSF funds was also mentioned by several testifiers.

The current definition of broadband as service of at least 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up reflects the needs of consumers who are primarily downloading content. The current definition doesn’t reflect the needs of small businesses and agricultural producers who need to upload very large files. This definition will also likely not be adequate for future needs.

Agricultural producers will likely require both mobile and fixed broadband. The spectrum manager for John Deere testified that John Deere tractors have an AT&T modem installed and require mobile broadband coverage. A farmer near Giltner shared how he is using aerial and video imaging to manage his operations. The files are huge. He currently has to download them to a flash drive and mail them to have them analyzed.

Public-private partnerships may facilitate the deployment of broadband. Several representatives of the public power industry testified about their willingness to partner with the telecommunications industry. David Young from the City of Lincoln also testified about the value of public-private partnerships.

PSC Commissioner Mary Ridder recommended convening a statewide task force to address the 17% of Nebraska households who do not have broadband and develop a statewide broadband plan. She also recommended that the plan include a biennial reporting requirement designed to provide updates for continual broadband growth.

From the December 2017 issue (PDF) of Nebraska Broadband