This post in a nutshell: Internet service 50 times faster than Comcast’s basic service is coming to Lancaster city starting later this year. It will be cheaper than Comcast, too, because it will be offered through the city as a public utility.

In my post last August, I argued strongly that Lancaster’s mayor, Rick Gray, was wrong to publicly endorse the proposed merger of Comcast with Time Warner. I went on record with that criticism in LNP and started a petition calling for city council to oppose the merger.  (As an update, Comcast just yesterday said they feel “optimistic” that federal regulators will allow the merger.)

In the public reaction to the mayor’s public support of Comcast, I was just one voice among many calling on Lancaster city not only to stop catering to Comcast but in fact to compete with Comcast by offering very-high-speed Internet service to Lancaster city residents as a public utility.

As reported by LNP’s Dan Nephin today, Lancaster city is going to step up and do just that. What’s more, it turns out that these plans and negotiations have been in the works for years, behind closed doors until Verizon decided if it would block such plans. (The city administrator, Patrick Hopkins, tells me in a Facebook comment that the work began in 2006.) Verizon has decided it will not.

So, while I was joining others in calling for public broadband in Lancaster, city leaders had already had something big in the works for years. They just couldn’t say anything about it publicly.

I’m writing this from my home, where we subscribe to Comcast’s most basic Internet service. Comcast’s own tool reports that my download speed is 3.6 megabits per second (Mbps).

The capacity of the public Internet service to be offered within Lancaster city later this year is planned to be 300 Mbps, thanks to new infrastructure of roughly “a thousand strand miles” of fiber-optic cable.

Free WiFi hotspots will be set up in parks and other public areas all over the city, and residents and businesses will be able to subscribe to the service. Prices haven’t been set yet, but Nephin reports Gray saying the city is “very confident that it’s going to be a lot lower than what you’re paying now for home Internet service.” At the very least, as residents, we’ll be able to get a lot more speed for our dollar.

This plan looks to be a huge win for the city’s budget. The installation of fiber-optic cable and transmitters will cost around $500,000 over the next twenty years. The city will save at least half that amount in the first year alone, because it will no longer have to pay a third party for Internet service and because it will allow remote monitoring of water meters throughout the city.

Verizon Opted Out

The reason Lancaster city is allowed under Pennsylvania law to roll out this Internet service is that Verizon chose to give up its state-guaranteed right of first refusal on creating such a network in the city. (Verizon’s lobbying of the state government earlier this century led the state government to sell out and guarantee Verizon it could have “dibs” on creating this kind of network anywhere in the state where it is the primary telecom provider.) Verizon just informed the city of its decision in a letter on February 12.

City leadership was staying mum on this subject until hearing that final decision from Verizon, so it turns out these plans were in the works even as Mayor Gray was coming under criticism for his support of Comcast last year. In my view, rolling out this plan is of much greater significance than signing a letter supporting Comcast’s merger — it’s a good act far outweighing a lapse in judgment.

A Great Thing for Lancaster

This plan is terrific for Lancaster city, its residents, and its businesses. I’m confident that people and businesses will move to Lancaster city simply for the really fast, affordable Internet connection. The service will save our city money that it desperately needs in order to maintain infrastructure and provide necessary public services. Businesses in the city will save money, too, while also increasing their capacity and productivity with a faster Internet connection.

And hey, in the near future, if a pipe bursts in my house while I’m out of town, the city may even catch it, because they’ll be monitoring for abnormalities in daily water meter readings.

Huge thanks and congratulations on this forward-thinking initiative go to Mayor Gray, city council, Patrick Hopkins, Charlotte Katzenmoyer, and others involved.

While some mayors are making it a priority to provide high-speed wireless Internet access to all or to court alternative broadband providers like Google to bring truly high-speed broadband Internet to their communities, Lancaster city mayor Rick Gray is throwing his support behind two mega-corporations his constituents truly and justly hate. (For starters, the companies are incredibly powerful proponents of killing the freedom of the Internet by ending Net neutrality.) Let me introduce them by way of a recent report from the American Consumer Satisfaction Index:

High prices, slow data transmission and unreliable service drag consumer satisfaction to record lows, as customers have few alternatives beyond the largest Internet service providers. Customer satisfaction with ISPs drops 3.1% to 63%, the lowest score in the Index.  … Customers rate Comcast  and Time Warner Cable even lower for Internet service than for their TV service. In both industries, the two providers have the weakest customer satisfaction.

And yet, on Thursday, Mayor Gray joined fifty-one other city mayors to sign a letter which, in my paraphrase, says, “Go, corporate oligarchy, go!” and in actuality spews a load of corporate double-speak that our mayor should be deeply ashamed to have put his name to. You can read the letter for yourself (pdf).

I want to be very clear that putting more power in the hands of Comcast and Time Warner is a terrible idea for Lancaster city, especially for its citizens and its businesses. I call on Lancaster city council to pass a resolution that makes this argument — in clear opposition to Mayor Gray — against a merger of these two corporate monopolies into a single super-monopoly.

If you agree with me, please sign the petition, share this blog post, and comment below.

Mayor Rick Gray Supports a Merger of Comcast and Time Warner

The New York Times is disclosing what military equipment has been given to state and local law enforcement agencies through the United States Defense Department. Here’s what law enforcement agencies in Lancaster County received.

The Times reported in June:

During the Obama administration, according to Pentagon data, police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft.

Thanks to data acquired and disclosed by the Times on Github, I am able to report that no less than $11,000 worth of that military equipment has been sent to Lancaster County since 2008, including thirteen of those machine guns and 196 of the magazines. (None of the armored vehicles or aircraft yet.)

A full accounting of what has been received by agencies in Lancaster County, PA is below the photo gallery.

NSN (National Stock Number) Item Name Qty Acquisition
1005-00-073-9421 RIFLE, 5.56 MILLIMETER 1 $499.00 9/17/2008
1005-00-073-9421 RIFLE, 5.56 MILLIMETER 1 $499.00 9/17/2008
1005-00-073-9421 RIFLE, 5.56 MILLIMETER 1 $499.00 9/17/2008
1005-00-073-9421 RIFLE, 5.56 MILLIMETER 1 $499.00 9/17/2008
1005-00-073-9421 RIFLE, 5.56 MILLIMETER 1 $499.00 9/17/2008
1005-00-856-6885 RIFLE, 5.56 MILLIMETER 1 $120.00 10/29/2010
1005-00-856-6885 RIFLE, 5.56 MILLIMETER 1 $120.00 10/29/2010
1005-00-856-6885 RIFLE, 5.56 MILLIMETER 1 $120.00 10/29/2010
1005-00-856-6885 RIFLE, 5.56 MILLIMETER 1 $120.00 10/29/2010
1005-00-856-6885 RIFLE, 5.56 MILLIMETER 1 $120.00 2/26/2013
1005-00-856-6885 RIFLE, 5.56 MILLIMETER 1 $120.00 2/26/2013
1005-00-856-6885 RIFLE, 5.56 MILLIMETER 1 $120.00 2/26/2013
1005-00-856-6885 RIFLE, 5.56 MILLIMETER 1 $120.00 2/26/2013
1005-00-921-5004 MAGAZINE, CARTRIDGE 196 $9.31 2/21/2013
1240-01-411-1265 SIGHT, REFLEX 3 $328.00 2/21/2013
3413-01-428-6623 DRILLING MACHINE, UPRIGHT 1 $3,993.32 4/30/2012
5120-00-293-1439 VISE, MACHINIST’S 2 $422.41 3/15/2012
5180-00-357-7770 TOOL KIT, REPAIRMAN’S 1 $2,012.00 4/4/2012
5820-01-512-3227 RECEIVER-TRANSMITTER, RADIO 6 $329.15 9/24/2013
6545-00-656-1094 FIRST AID KIT, GENERAL PURPOSE 6 $87.29 7/5/2012
6545-00-656-1094 FIRST AID KIT, GENERAL PURPOSE 6 $87.29 7/12/2012
7110-DS-SAF-E000 5 DRAWER SAFE 3 $800.00 4/20/2012
8415-01-461-8341 SHIRT, COLD WEATHER 10 $60.45 4/20/2012
8415-01-461-8356 SHIRT, COLD WEATHER 25 $60.45 4/20/2012
8415-01-530-2157 ELBOW, PAD 25 $11.79 4/20/2012
8415-99-359-9160 MASK, SAFETY, ALL TEMPERATURES 30 $21.25 9/24/2013
8465-01-328-8268 GOGGLES, SUN, WIND AND DUST 25 $23.81 3/15/2012
8465-01-393-6515 MAT, SLEEPING, SELF-INFLATING 10 $44.39 4/20/2012
8465-01-505-4762 DRINKING SYSTEM 24 $36.79 4/13/2012
8465-01-524-7226 SUSTAINMENT POUCH 6 $15.58 4/4/2012
8465-01-524-7226 SUSTAINMENT POUCH 25 $15.58 4/4/2012
8465-01-525-0577 FIGHTING LOAD CARRIER 13 $43.75 3/15/2012
8465-01-525-0606 POUCH, M4 TWO MAGAZINE 25 $5.44 3/27/2012

When it comes to the intersection of Christian faith and the art of music, I’ve encountered abundant dialogue and engagement within the community here in Lancaster. But when it comes to the intersection of Christian faith and the visual arts, I have not encountered that same level of activity and vibrancy.

Ned Bustard With an Allison Luce Sculpture
Ned Bustard, curator of Square Halo Gallery, explains some of the meaning behind this medium-defying work of ceramic by Allison Luce.

That’s the reason I’m so excited about the opening of a new art gallery in downtown Lancaster, Square Halo Gallery. This gallery’s opening is an important moment in the maturity of Lancaster’s art scene. The work you will see at this gallery is deeply informed by and rooted in faith, but it is leagues away from Thomas Kinkade or happy paintings of a white Jesus holding well-mannered white children on his lap. Not only is the work you will see on display at Square Halo Gallery distinguished by the complexity and maturity of its artistic vision but also by its remarkable display of talent. This is quality, world-class work.

Most people in the Lancaster area are unaware of the vibrant community that is spread across the country, in small pockets here and there, of Christians who are engaged in the visual arts. I think of two organizations as being at its heart. The first is CIVA (Christians in the Visual Arts), an organization designed to encourage, support, and connect active artists as they explore – on their own and together – the relationship between their Christian faith and the visual arts. Many of my blog readers and friends may understand CIVA better immediately when I say that Dayton Castleman, now living in Bentonville, Arkansas, is on the organization’s board of directors.

The second institution that encapsulates this loose subculture (or community, or movement – there’s really no good word for it) is Image journal, which takes the intersection of Christian faith and contemporary art (visual as well as literary) more seriously than any other periodical ever has. Image is a publication of incredibly high artistic standards. If your work appears on its pages, it is because as an artist you have produced something really, really good.

And that is one way to introduce the opening exhibit at Square Halo Gallery: The exhibit includes work by five artists whose work has appeared in Image: Sandra Bowden plus four others who have been profiled as in the past as the  Image artist of the month: Roger Feldman, Makota Fujimura, Edward Knippers, and Mary McCleary.

Another way to introduce this exhibit would be to say that the artists included all had work appearing in the excellent book It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God. Bookseller Byron Borger of Hearts & Minds Books in Dallastown, PA explains why this book, now in its second edition, is so great better than I can here, so go read his review.

It is through Byron, a friend, encourager, and college-days employer of mine, that I first was introduced to this book and to the editor who compiled and produced it, Ned Bustard. The book is essential reading for anyone studying how artists and those who appreciate their work can and should connect art with their faith (rather than keeping them separate parts of their lives). I read a lot on that subject in my early 20s, and It Was Good remains one of my favorites.

Artwork on Display at Square Halo Gallery

The exhibit itself captures the essential aspects of this whole contemporary-Christians-doing-visual-arts camp. In the selection and ordering of the works on displays, key themes arise: treating tradition with respect but also with reinvention, looking straight at evil with open eyes and acknowledging it, embracing the sacred while incorporating and connecting the profane (the secular), looking to diverse cultural heritages as a source of inspiration and variety (not of division), and communicating boldly but not always plainly (sometimes symbolism, sometimes not; sometimes words, sometimes not; sometimes riffing on the expected, sometimes leaping out with the unexpected).

Square Halo Gallery opens its doors for First Friday, October 4, 2013 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. (Facebook event page). The gallery is located right inside the front doors The Trust Performing Arts Center at 37 North Market Street (between the Lancaster Dispensing Company and Orange Street), the building formerly occupied by the Lancaster Quilt Museum.

The opening night for the gallery will also be the night of the book launch for a “sequel” of sorts to It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God, this volume titled It Was Good: Making Music to the Glory of God. (Byron Borger has a fresh-off-the-presses, in-depth rave review of this one, too, which is well worth reading.) The event will feature appearances and performances by several of the contributors to the book, including Rob Bigley (the venue’s executive director), composer Mark Chambers (who has a short blog post of his own about the new book), Joy Ike (who has, to my astonishment, played in my house! ), Matthew Monticchio (who previously spent ten years as music director at Wheatland Presbyterian Church in Lancaster), and Steve Nichols (author and Lancaster Bible College professor). Tickets, available through EventBrite, are $5 for adults and $2 for students.

As for the gallery, Ned Bustard says the exhibit will change every two months and the gallery will always be open on First Fridays and Third Fridays.

As soon as you check out the gallery, please swing back here to leave a comment on what you thought of it.

If you were interested in this post, you likely will also be interested in my 2009 post about an exhibit of work by Barry Moser at the Lancaster Museum of Art, which also includes mention of Ned Bustard and Image journal.

Square Halo Gallery
37 North Market Street
Lancaster, PA 17603

The gallery is open tomorrow night (October 4, 2013) for First Friday, and on Saturday and Sunday as part of the fall ArtWalk.

For $25, you can go to an Hourglass Foundation event at the Ware Center this Thursday night to hear a Brookings Institution fellow feed you a line of bull.

What Christopher Leinberger is expected to say, according to Bernie Harris’s Intelligencer article yesterday, is that if Amtrak rolls out high-speed rail service along its Keystone line, Lancaster should have a street-car trolley that runs a loop that connects the train station with downtown.

Given the state of Lancaster city today, this focus on infrastructure is intolerable.

One of the recent great books on urban life and planning is Edward Glaeser’s Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier. It includes these poignant reminders:

Cities are the absence of physical space between people and companies. They are proximity, density, closeness. They enable us to work and play together, and their success depends on the demand for physical connection.…

The folly of building-centric urban renewal reminds us that cities aren’t structures; cities are people.

The downtown convention center has yet to prove that it was anywhere close to worth its expense. Many of the brick-edged sidewalks and street crossings laid downtown four years ago are already cracked and ugly. Tearing down parts of the exterior of the monstrosity of a building at Lancaster Square (across from Binns Park) so far has done nothing to make the property more attractive to private developers.

It is easy and tempting to focus on buildings and infrastructure when focusing on the improvement of a city. I imagine that this is especially true for the people in Lancaster’s city government who need to spend endless hours figuring out how to deal with the city’s aging infrastructure, particularly for public utilities. If I spent all day figuring out how to mend old infrastructure, I’m sure I would dream of going beyond simply fixing what’s there to instead build shiny new buildings and transportation methods.

The problem, however, is that Lancaster isn’t its buildings and infrastructure. Lancaster is its people. And we can and should invest a lot more in them.

There are all sorts of things that deserve more attention, discussion, and funding than infrastructure. Here are a two starting points:

  1. Despite ongoing valiant efforts of a handful of citizens, Lancaster city still has precious few Latino public figures, especially when you consider that Hispanics will soon be the majority ethnic group in the city.
  2. Before being unanimously rejected by the city’s school board, the proposal for an Academy of Business and Entrepreneurship Charter School enjoyed far more support than it ever should have. It is going to be a long time before anyone can say that we as a community are doing enough for our school children.

Please chime in below in the comments. Do you agree that attention on infrastructure is misplaced? If so, what do you think is more important for Lancaster city to focus on right now?