The Omaha City Council held a public hearing on an agreement to allow Google Fiber to install infrastructure for high-speed internet service on Tuesday, Oct. 18. State law prevents the city from generating revenue from the agreement, prompting backlash from Cox Communications.
Deputy City Attorney Bernard in den Bosch said the Small Wireless Facilities Deployment Act prohibits the city from charging a franchise fee on a communications service provider authorized to use the right-of-way. He said that although that’s what the language dictates, he doesn’t believe that’s the law’s intention.
“Believe me, I want to be able to say that we have the ability to be able to charge a fee,” in den Bosch said.
Kim Rowell from Cox Communications, which pays a 5% franchise fee under its agreement to provide cable television for the city, said the agreement with Google was anti-competitive. Cox also provides internet service.
“We are here today to embrace competition. We hold that true competition is only possible if all competitors are playing by a similar set of rules,” Rowell said.
Rachel Merlo from Google Fiber said they would be willing to pay a franchise fee if state law changed. She said they initially proposed a 2% fee, and that they pay a fee in many other cities.
She said they will only provide broadband internet. Users are able to stream television content through the internet, but Google Fiber would not provide it directly.
Merlo said installation would begin near the I-680 corridor and eventually reach the entire Omaha market over the course of four to five years. Vote on the agreement is scheduled for next week.
After a series of fights and other disturbances, the Throwback Arcade Lounge will be required to submit an application to renew their liquor license.
The City Council voted unanimously to require the renewal application. The state liquor control commission will then review the application and decide if the downtown bar’s liquor license should be renewed or denied.
Ryan Wiesen from the city legal department said Omaha police have filed 13 tavern reports spanning from February 2021 to September of this year. In addition to fights, Wiesen said there have been reports of drug use and public urination. He said police faced resistance by staff on multiple occasions.
Councilmember Danny Begley said the incidents were disturbing and threatened safety in the Old Market area. He said the need for police response takes away resources from the rest of the area.
“I’ve heard from those neighbors loud and clear…on their safety, the public safety,” Begley said. “I wouldn’t want to go into that establishment right now because of that and I hate to say that about anywhere in the city of Omaha.”
William McGinn, an attorney representing the bar, said management has already taken steps to address the issues. He said many of the disturbances were associated with parties the bar no longer hosts, and they began hiring off-duty police officers for security since meeting with OPD in April.
The Douglas County Board of Commissioners also met Tuesday to vote on renaming the Douglas County Youth Center as the Youth and Family Support Center.
The County Board delayed voting on an agreement between the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department and Millard Public Schools to renew the school resource officers contract for Horizon High School.
Commissioner Maureen Boyle said school resource officers are important, but it’s not a mandated expense for the county to provide. She said the schools themselves should cover the cost.
No one from the sheriff’s office was present at Tuesday’s meeting. The County Board will vote next week.