The Tallahassee City Commission was divided, but they passed a vote 3 - 2 earlier this month to move forward with a feasibility study focusing on a citywide fiber optic broadband utility. City staff will now begin to prepare a Request for Proposals (RFP) to find a consulting firm to prepare the study.
People Want to Know
Newly elected Commissioner Jeremy Matlow brought the issue to his colleagues, stating that people brought up the subject to him while he was campaigning:
“A lot of people see what other cities are doing, such as Gainesville and Chattanooga, and asked why can’t we do that here...That’s the question we’re trying to answer: Can we do that here?”
Along with Matlow, Elaine Bryant and Dianne Williams-Cox voted in favor of the proposal to fund a feasibility study, the latter favoring the possibility of competition for incumbents Comcast and CenturyLink. “If you don’t want competition, provide better service,” said Williams-Cox. "Let’s look at it and research it,” she said, "and look for funding sources for this."
"We can not stay in the space we are now. We have to move forward. I think it’s worth putting it on the table for discussion,” Bryant said. “We need more information.”
While three Commissioners want to learn more about the possibilities, Mayor John Daily and Commissioner Curtis Richardson seemed to firmly oppose any possibility. Primarily, they expressed concern over the estimated cost of more than $283 million dollars to bring fiber to the community of about 191,000 people. City staff developed the figure based on a reported estimate developed by a private sector Internet access company. The ISP wanted to enter the market in Tallahassee and determined that it would cost $150 million to deploy in a limited area.
Tallahassee has a municipal electric utility, which would likely favorably impact an estimate to deploy broadband citywide. A consultant might find that the city could use existing infrastructure, equipment, and personnel. Florida, however, imposes various restrictions that include taxes on municipal networks. The state laws demand quick returns that even private companies don’t have to meet — restrictions that often intimidate local communities from investing in publicly owned broadband networks.
Matlow, Bryant, and Williams-Cox want to learn more about the possibilities, including partnerships. They realize that other communities around them, such as Martin County, Ocala, and Palm Coast, have the infrastructure that businesses need for daily operations.
“When we look to the future, are we really laying out the infrastructure we need to be competitive on an economic basis,” he added. “We try to recruit companies here that require high speeds so there are a million different ways to enter this, including public-private partnerships.”