Broadband Nebraska map

This map shows the availability of broadband Internet in Nebraska.

Nelson Schneider was unhappy with the home Internet service he was getting from Windstream, which he said was slow and unreliable, as was satellite service, so he decided to try a different route.

How much would it cost, he asked Windstream, to run optic fiber out to his farm about 3 miles from Ceresco so he could get business-class Internet?

Windstream's response: About $383,000. 

Though extreme, the situation highlights the hurdles rural residents in Nebraska and elsewhere can face when trying to get high-speed Internet.

Schneider is a freelance editor and writer, and assistant manager of his family-owned farm. Asked about the necessity of his getting broadband, he said he resented the implication. 

"Why does the farm need electricity?" he asked. "It's annoying to think because it's a rural site it doesn't need the quality. Ten megabits would probably do. ... In the future, who knows?"

As it stood, his Internet service was slow, unreliable and a pain.  

"Buying things (online) for the farm is time-consuming and aggravating," he said. Since the farm is also his residence, it's a quality-of-life issue for streaming and other recreation purposes. 

Windstream told him the company could not tap into a fiber trunk line that a map shows is right near his farm, and instead would have to run an entirely new line, which would stretch for 4½ miles.

The $383,000 cost included $350,000 to run the line and about $33,000 for three years of business-class Internet service. 

Windstream spokesman Michael Teague confirmed the price and said it was so high because the request was unusual and would have required multiple miles of fiber installation.

Schneider eventually found another provider, Northeast Nebraska Telephone Co., which agreed to run a fiber line to his property for the relative bargain price of $42,000. Northeast's nearest installation is 3 miles away.

Gene Hand, director of the telecommunications division of the Nebraska Public Service Commission, said the issue is not necessarily an urban vs. rural one.

"It doesn't quite play out the way people think it does," Hand said.

Small companies such as Northeast Nebraska Telephone have an easier time making investments in fiber in rural areas than big companies such as Windstream do, Hand said.

Multistate companies like Windstream, which cover large territories in multiple states, have a harder time finding the resources to deploy to upgrade infrastructure in rural areas, he said.

The federal government has attempted to help, offering subsidies to carriers that will bring rural residents broadband service.

Ironically, Windstream announced earlier this month that it will receive $175 million annually over seven years from the Connect America Fund, which gets its money from surcharges on phone bills. Windstream will use the money to expand broadbrand service to more than 400,000 rural homes and businesses in 17 states. More than 21,500 of those locations will be in Nebraska.

Hand said that the area around Ceresco would be a good place for Windstream to invest that money.

"If that were to happen, this could all go away," he said.

Windstream has not yet determined where in Nebraska it will make investments.

Teague, the Windstream spokesman, said the company has revamped its process for custom bids like the one Schneider requested to ensure it can produce more reasonable and competitive bids.

In a statement, Sarah Day, president of Windstream's consumer and small business division, pointed out that the company has consistently demonstrated its commitment to enhancing rural broadband infrastructure, spending $14 million in the past three years on such initiatives. The Connect America Fund grant will provide more money to keep making such investments, she said.

"As one of the only providers continuing to make investments in underserved regions, Windstream will remain dedicated to working within our communities to mitigate the challenges of our country's existing rural infrastructure," Day said.

Schneider, for his part, is just glad he will finally be getting Internet with reasonable speed.

He has already made his first $14,000 payment and is expecting to have the fiber line installed by the end of September.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-2647 or molberding@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LincolnBizBuzz.


Business editor/reporter

Matt Olberding is a Lincoln native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate who has been covering business for the Journal Star since 2005.

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