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Are Lancaster Taxpayers Paying For Substandard Service?

August 22, 2017

Last May, this blog discussed Lancaster, Penn.’s decision to use city-owned green space to house infrastructure for its public-private broadband network, LanCity Connect. Neighborhood activists and local newspaper editors were outraged. Since then, construction of LanCity Connect has been plodding along and, according to LancasterOnline, residents’ complaints have grown well beyond those expressed last spring. Even proponents of the network are upset.

David Hess, an IT systems architect and “huge supporter” of the city system, questioned LanCity Connect’s openness and transparency. In remarks before the city council this month, Hess explained that residents signed up for service have gone “months without hearing anything” about when they’d be connected. Lancaster Chief of Staff Pat Brogan acknowledged the problem and also acknowledged that, in terms of meeting its rollout schedule, the city “fell short of meeting the expectations” it created.

Another resident, IT systems and database administrator Christopher Blank, questioned whether MAW Communications, the city’s private sector contractor, “has sufficient technical and management capacity.” Given deployment problems, those questions seem legitimate.

LanCity Connect began offering residential service in some city sections this past May. By June, MAW had halted new customer registrations due, in part, to the fact that its installation subcontractors “weren’t doing satisfactory work.” MAW also had to rethink its deployment plan because the initial schedule was too costly. As LancasterOnline explained, phase 1 of deployment covered a large area “and signups were widely scattered.” In order “to keep costs manageable,” MAW had to “minimize” the number of times it visited a block. The result was that some customers who thought they were going to get service soon now are told the city doesn’t know when they’ll be connected.

Deployment delays and slow communications weren’t the only concerns residents Hess and Blank expressed. The two also are worried because the network was put “behind a single public IP address.” That decision, they say, means that “if one user causes a website to block … everyone on LanCity Connect will be affected.” The arrangement also “makes remote access to your home computer impossible.” Hess said this problem indicates LanCity Connect is not “a technologically advanced internet service provider.”

Christopher Mitchell, a supporter of government-owned broadband networks, acknowledged to LancasterOnline that these problems “aren’t uncommon in community broadband.” Perhaps taxpayers should remember that next time government broadband proponents come calling for government revenues.