After consideration and debate, city leaders in Gainesville, Florida, have decided to move ahead with a feasibility study to explore possible municipal Internet network models. Residents are plagued by high incumbent Internet access rates and want the city’s telecommunications utility to dig into solutions.
At a recent meeting, the city commission heard from Gainesville Regional Utility’s (GRUCom) chief business service officer, Lewis Walton, about potential models, costs, and GRUCom’s current functions. Walton also offered some rough cost estimates. The commission unanimously approved the motion to design a study, but several commissioners remain skeptical.
GATORNET For Apartments And Businesses
Even though single-family dwellings don’t have access to Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) from the city, some apartments and businesses have been connected to publicly owned fiber for years.
GATORNET offers Internet access to apartment complexes, many where University of Florida students live. The university is part of the Gig.U initiative, a collaboration between more than 30 research universities and the communities where they are from to develop high-quality connectivity in and around campuses.
Even before the collaboration with Gig.U, GRUCom had been offering services to government facilities and local businesses as early as 1996. The utility now has more than 500 miles of fiber throughout Alachua County, along with a data center; they also offer wireless services.
Residents Flexing Muscles
According to Connected Gainesville, a grassroots group advocating for city involvement in improving local connectivity, Gainesville households pay the highest Internet access rates in the state. They want GRUCom to offer competition to the incumbent. Bryan Eastman, one of the co-founders, recently told the Gainesville Sun:
"There is only one company in Gainesville that serves the whole city, and that's Cox," Eastman continued. "As the internet becomes more a part of our daily lives, more data gets used. We're going to need to keep up if we want to be a 21st century city competing with the rest of the world."
They’ve already presented a list of relevant questions to city commission candidates and posted their answers online but they haven’t endorsed any specific candidates. Pushing candidates to consider issues related to connectivity is a good way to make them realize consitutents care about the issue and find out which elected officials prioritize this critical issue.
The First Step In A Long Process
At the meeting, Eastman and Chris Dalton, another Connected Gainesville co-founder, spoke in support of the measure to move ahead with the study.
“This is the first step on a long process,” Eastman said. “The commissioners had good input. They questioned where they needed to, but I think everybody understands there is a problem in our community and we need to take action to move in the right direction.”
City staff will now research and outline a potential study.