Count Windstream among the communications companies boosting internet service in Hastings.
While work began in December, Windstream recently announced the upgrade, which is branded Kinetic. It represents an investment of several million dollars, and involves building fiber optic connections to provide 1-gigabit internet service to households in Hastings.
The first phase of the work is complete.
“We know customers want several things; they want faster broadband speeds; they also want access to a variety of entertainment options,” Brad Hedrick, president of operations for Windstream in Nebraska, said at an installation site in the alley between Sixth and Seventh streets near Bellevue Avenue on Monday.
Windstream plans to begin offering its suite of premier TV services in Hastings in early April and to reopen its retail store at 321 N. St. Joseph Ave. this summer.
Hastings is the second Nebraska city after Lincoln to get Windstream's Kinetic Gig service.
Before Kinetic, Windstream’s fastest internet speeds were 100 megabit per second. Kinetic’s 1-gigabit internet service is 10 times that speed with the capability of going beyond that in the future.
“Faster internet speeds is certainly a key driver,” Hedrick of the upgrade. “In Nebraska, Windstream has a lot of markets, but Hastings is our second-largest market. It’s a very important market to us, and we believe we have the services customers want and we want to roll out those faster internet speeds.”
Windstream’s roots in Hastings date back to when Lincoln Telephone & Telegraph was the city’s sole telephone service provider.
Windstream’s work on Kinetic began before Nebraska-based Allo Communications announced in January it purchased the fiber network and business customer contracts of Glenwood Telecommunications operations in Hastings.
Glenwood began offering service to the downtown Hastings area and Hastings Public Schools in 2012. The company later expanded its fiber optic services to residential customers citywide.
Hedrick said Windstream crews are finishing the build in northwest Hastings, tied into existing main lines, and starting in northeast parts of town. Windstream is initially concentrating on those areas and will take a hard look at other areas later.
Meanwhile, Windstream has been negotiating with the city of Hastings as the city wants to purchase the 1,839 utility poles Windstream owns in Hastings.
Hastings began negotiating with Windstream in May 2016. The following December, the council authorized the acquisition of utility poles owned by Windstream in the city through eminent domain, which was the first step in the eminent domain process.
Within the city, there also are about 2,900 poles owned by Hastings Utilities with Windstream equipment attached.
The city can use eminent domain only for a public purpose. In this case, that is to secure the means of distributing electricity to the citizens of Hastings without having to rely on another party to repair or replace a pole when necessary.
Hedrick gave a presentation to the Hastings City Council in November 2017. He said then Windstream countered a previous offer of $974,000 from the city. Windstream’s offer was $1.5 million, with all of the proceeds to be reinvested in Hastings with the Kinetic fiber overbuild.
“We made what we thought was a very attractive settlement offer to the city,” Hedrick said Monday. “Unfortunately, they did not accept our settlement offer. The biggest point of contention was related to the transfer of control as far as the timing of that. We said we would turn over control as part of our settlement agreement on Jan. 1, 2019. That would allow us to maintain control as we build out the network. They wanted control sooner than that.”
City attorney Dave Ptak said if the city is paying Windstream it wants control of the poles as soon as it pays Windstream.
“We intend to do what we need to do to preserve our rights of ownership, so we can continue this fiber build,” Hedrick said.
Ptak filed condemnation action against Windstream in Adams County Court on March 15 to acquire Windstream’s poles.
“I regret that it had to get that far because we were so close to having an agreement, but unfortunately we couldn’t get over that last hurdle,” Ptak said Thursday.
The board of appraisers appointed by the court is scheduled to meet April 11 and look at areas where the city and Windstream both own utility poles to arrive at a number for the poles Windstream owns and certify that to the county judge.
Then, it’ll be up to the city to see what that number is.
“If we feel it’s fair and reasonable we can pay that money into the court,” he said.
The city would then be entitled to possession of the poles.
Windstream would have the opportunity to appeal that amount, which would go to Adams County District Court. A jury would then determine the actual award.
How long that first evaluation will take depends on how much information the appointed appraisers need to make a fair decision on how much the poles are worth.
Ptak said the city had the poles appraised in August 2016 and August 2017. The value for the Windstream poles in 2016 was about $1.024 million; the value in 2017 was $974,000.
The city and Windstream agreed on a number that was a little higher than $974,000.
That figure will not be released until the negotiations are complete.
“It wouldn’t be fair to either party if (the appraisers) knew what we agreed to,” he said. “I sure wouldn’t want to put that number out there because that would be an easy thing for the appraisers to land on. I want them to do their due diligence under the oath they’re going to be given by the county judge to go out and value the poles for what they believe is fair market value.”