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Lincoln, Neb., Public Schools Look to Connect to Fiber Network

The Lincoln Board of Education gave initial consideration to a 10-year contract that would allow the district to connect to a network of dark fiber, which are unused strands of cable already installed that can be leased.

Nebraska State Capitol in Lincoln
Nebraska state Capitol in Lincoln.
(TNS) — Lincoln Public Schools would hook up to Allo's sprawling underground fiber-optic cable network next year under a proposed contract with the Lincoln-based communications company.

The Lincoln Board of Education gave initial consideration Tuesday to the 10-year contract that would allow the district to connect to Allo's network of dark fiber, essentially unused strands of cable that are already installed and can be leased to individuals or companies.

The $1.23 million contract — which covers the expense of installing lines to hook up to the grid — will only cost the district $492,000 because of discounts through the federal E-Rate program.

The district has been on the fiber network of Unite Private Networks, a Kansas City-based company, since 2001, LPS Chief Technology Officer Kirk Langer said. The network is a mix of underground and aboveground cables.

But the current 12-year deal — which costs LPS about $248,000 annually — expires at the end of June. So, the district requested proposals for a new contract, receiving responses from Allo, Unite Private Networks and Windstream.

Allo ended up being the least-expensive option, but federal requirements under the E-Rate program meant the district had to look at other factors, such as the age of the network, whether the cables are underground or aboveground, new installation costs and the number of pathways to sites.

Allo checked off many of those boxes.

Its network is relatively new, it's entirely underground and it has a fixed cost for connecting to new buildings regardless of distance, which is a plus when linking to far-flung buildings such as Standing Bear High School under construction near 70th Street and Saltillo Road, Langer said.

Allo simply has more underground cable installed, Langer said, which allows for greater diversity in connections between buildings, greater resilience if a pathway is disrupted and is easier to connect to when LPS adds new buildings.

The Allo network supports data speeds of 100 gigabits per second or more, the same capacity as the current grid.

Langer said the stark difference in the cost of the proposed contract and the current one is a result, in part, of the increasing commoditization of fiber and competition between companies.

He also added that Unite Private Networks' proposal was much less expensive than its current contract, but was edged out just slightly by Allo's.

The district has used fiber-optic cable — which transmits data through high-speed bursts of light — to connect buildings to the internet essentially since LPS started bringing its buildings online around 2001.

The proposed contract does not change the district's internet service provider, which is Network Nebraska.

If the contract is approved, Allo would have to wait until Jan. 1 before the work to connect LPS buildings to the network could begin because of rules under the E-Rate program.

But Langer would expect that work to start in earnest after that date.

"You'll have to basically (connect) 65, 70 buildings," he said. "That's a challenging thing to do."

The Board of Education will vote on the contract at its Oct. 11 meeting.

© 2022 Lincoln Journal Star, Neb. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.