Tag: "florida"

Posted March 27, 2020 by shrestha

Katie Kienbaum, Research Associate at ILSR, wrote an op-ed that the Orlando Sentinel published on March 5, 2020. Katie wrote about how lobbying from the big wireless companies at the state legislature restricts local communities from making their own decisions. She also touched on the importance of protecting local authority to allow communities to have their own right to make decisions.

Here is the full piece: 

Imagine moving into a new home. One of the reasons you chose this house was the view from your daughter’s bedroom of the park across the street, a nice change from the alleyway her room overlooked in your old apartment.

Then, days after unpacking the last pair of socks, a set of ugly, bulky boxes appear on the street light right in front of your daughter’s window, blocking the view almost entirely. You contact your council representative only to find out that it’s a new wireless “small” cell and despite being on city property, state law prevents them from doing anything. Their hands, you’re informed, are tied.

This story is playing out again and again in communities across Florida as companies like AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile stumble over each other to build out next generation 5G wireless infrastructure. In their haste, wireless providers are slapping up poles and equipment often without concern for the impact on local communities, affecting aesthetics and straining city resources.

A municipality typically has the authority to prevent or at least address this kind of local nuisance. But in Florida, there’s little recourse for the communities and families harmed by indiscriminate 5G construction. As a result of lobbying from the big wireless companies, state law limits the ability of local governments to collaborate with wireless providers over the placement and appearance of small cell wireless facilities. It also shortens the permitting process for new wireless installations and caps or eliminates the fees that cities can charge companies like AT&T to use public property.

These industry-backed blanket regulations ignore the unique needs and values of different communities, limiting local control over neighborhood appearance, undermining digital equity efforts, and threatening public accountability.

Strict permitting...

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Posted February 26, 2020 by lgonzalez

As state lawmakers debate in committee rooms and Capitol chambers around the country, various broadband and Internet network infrastructure bills are appearing on agendas. Some are good news for local communities interested in developing publicly owned networks while other preemption bills make projects more difficult to plan, fund, and execute. We've gathered together some notable bills from several states that merit watching - good, bad, and possibly both.

New Hampshire

For years, local communities were not allowed to bond to develop publicly owned broadband infrastructure in New Hampshire. Last year, the state adopted SB 170, which opened the door a crack so that municipalities can bond to develop infrastructure for public-private partnerships (PPPs) in "unserved" areas. This year, the New Hampshire General Court has the opportunity to push open the door a bit wider with SB 459.

SB 459 allows local communities to potentially define "unserved" areas themselves by putting more responsibility on Internet access providers. Municipalities must currently engage in a request for information process in which they must reach out to all Internet service providers operating in the community. SB 459, if adopted, would allow a community to consider areas "unserved" if a provider does not respond to such a request to clarify which premises are unserved. With the "unserved" designation, municipalities can bond to develop infrastructure to serve those premises.

The bill has bipartisan support and is scheduled for a March 11th hearing in the Senate Election Law and Municipal Affairs Committee. Read the text of SB 459 here [PDF] and follow its progress here.

Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, where lawmakers meet all year, Rep. Pam Snyder introduced HB 2055 in late in 2019. The bill allows local governments to provide telecommunications services, but limits them to unserved areas. If passed, the bill amends the Municipalities Authorities Act and,...

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Posted January 10, 2020 by lgonzalez

From the "Not Just Tired, but SICK and Tired Files" comes a letter to the editor of the Jackson County Floridian. Cynthia Cuenin, who has lived in the area for almost 30 years, says she's ready to call it quits and find a new community. Why? Because she can't get the Internet access she needs for her business.

Not only are the service options unacceptable, but the prices are too high. Cynthia also expresses exasperation at the negative impact on her children's education:

I also have two school-aged children who can’t even get online to do their dual enrollment at Chipola with enough confidence to take a test online! We live in unincorporated Jackson County, outside of Grand Ridge, very near I-10, which has high speed fiber optic cables running down it!

She notes that she pays around $250 per month for 25 Mbps, which rarely reaches the advertised speeds. "Right now I am at 1.97 Mbps for download speed!" she writes (exclamation points hers).

Jackson County has contemplated their connectivity problems in the past. Most recently in the spring of 2019, county leaders discussed potential public-private partnerships. In 2018, areas in rural Jackson County were targeted for Connect America Fund Phase 2.

Florida is one of 19 states that restrict local telecommunications authority. If Cynthia's local community were encouraged rather than discouraged from investing in high-quality Internet access infrastructure, she would have more options and the providers offering service would be compelled to do a better job at more reasonable prices. She writes:

The internet is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity, like electricity. One cannot function in today’s society without it!

After years, and years of this garbage, and being ignored, I am now looking to put my home on the market, and move my family and business out of this area, just so we can have some of the basic services...

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Posted November 13, 2019 by lgonzalez

This past summer, consultants hired by Lakeland, Florida, shared their opinion that the community has the necessary components to launch a broadband utility. In a recent opinion piece in The Ledger, city commissioner Justin Toller encourages Lakelanders to let their elected officials know that they want a public vote on the issue.

We’re Paying for it, Regardless

Toller, who has championed the broadband initiative as the chair of the Broadband Task Force, appeals to the public’s sense of value. He notes that, while everyone in the community has contributed financially to developing the existing 330-mile fiber optic network, only a small number of commercial entities use the infrastructure along with local schools, libraries, and public safety facilities. The city collects around $4 million per year in dark fiber leases.

Toller writes:

By investing in the final connection, we can reduce customer costs in the long-term, because you are the owners and not just the users. To private providers, you are a source of profit; to our city, you are an investment in our shared community. That investment will create innovation, economic development, job growth, and a higher quality of life, while also providing a savings on your Internet bill.

Repeating the Past

Toller also notes how Lakeland decided as a community in the past to invest in the electric utility, the hospital, and the roads. He sees a similar path with fiber.

Today, the roadways of the future are not concrete; they are fiber. Lakeland has invested millions of dollars in building the current fiber network, and now it’s time to make the final investment to connect all Lakelanders. Keep in mind, whether we hook-up that fiber to every home and business or not, we all continue to pay for the existing infrastructure.

The city has done its due diligence by having a feasibility study. There have been numerous community meetings, a survey, a forum, and hundreds of public comments. In response, private providers have done what they do best, raise prices.

Many of us are still using decades-old infrastructure, and we’ve grown accustomed to the high prices and lousy...

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Posted November 12, 2019 by lgonzalez

Whenever Christopher attends a Broadband Communities event, he returns with great stories from cities and towns across the U.S. that have invested in publicly owned Internet infrastructure. This week, we share his interview with Mel Poole, Ocala Fiber Network Director.

You may automatically think of Kentucky when you consider horses, but Ocala, Florida, is considered the "Horse Capital of the World." Fast thoroughbreds may end up at The Derby, but they often start in Ocala. Whether it's gigabits or galloping horses, Ocala has found a way to capitalize on the concept of speed.

The city first began with publicly owned fiber optic infrastructure for SCADA operations and later expanded their use to reduce telecommunications costs. Since ending leased T1 lines, the city has saved millions and taken control of connectivity. That was before Mel worked for the city, but he's well-versed in the story of the Ocala Fiber Network, and describes how they expanded to offer services to more sectors of the community.

Mel and Christopher talk about the city's decision to begin working with the public and how, by educating local decision makers, Mel and his team were able to help them make an informed choice. As Ocala worked with more entities, they've also faced challenges related to deployment and marketing. There's a fine line they need to walk between spreading the word about great service and their ability to connect subscribers in a timely fashion. Christopher and Mel talk about demographics, economic development, and Mel's vision for Ocala that's tied into their fiber optic infrastructure.

Read more about Ocala and...

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Posted July 15, 2019 by lgonzalez

Late in June, consultants hired by Lakeland, Florida, reported to city commissioners that the community is well situated to launch a broadband utility. Lakeland has drifted between options in recent years while making investments that ultimately have contributed to their current footing.

We last reported on the city’s activities in October 2016 when community leaders chose to seek out a private partner, issuing a Request for Proposals (RFP). Decision makers were intimidated at the thought of facing off against Charter Spectrum, citing the task of establishing a municipal network utility as too risky with aggressive incumbents willing to undercut prices.

Even though they were concerned with how a large monopoly cable company might react, commissioners agreed that Lakeland required high-quality Internet access in order to stay competitive. To set the stage for future improvement commissioners adopted several actions, including implementing a dig once policy, seeking allies among other local governments, and actively marketing their dark fiber network.

Darkness Reigns Supreme

The city's 330-mile fiber infrastructure currently serves the Polk County School District, local libraries, and public safety facilities. Like other communities that have existing fiber infrastructure, Lakeland began deploying their network in the mid-1990s to connect electric facilities. Seventy-five city facilities are on the network along with 220 traffic intersections, reducing pile-ups and pollution. Lakeland’s network also offers dark fiber connectivity to large companies and institutions, such as the Lakeland Regional Medical Center. In 2016, the network generated $4 million annually from leases.

Consultants envision the publicly owned dark fiber network as the basis for a Lakeland broadband utility. John Honker from Magellan Broadband told commissioners in June:

"A major part of this process, and what makes utilities and cities successful in deploying broadband, is the availability of existing resources. Lakeland has a lot of fiber. You have more fiber in the...

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Posted March 14, 2019 by lgonzalez

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.”

Divided Opinion

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...

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Posted July 30, 2018 by lgonzalez

Ocala, Florida, is one of those communities that doesn’t think twice about offering high-quality Internet access to businesses and residents. They’ve been doing it for decades and, when media coverage around gigabit connectivity began to expand, they were a little surprised because they had been offering similar services since the early 2000s. The benefits were nothing new to Ocala.

A Familiar Story Taken to Its Logical Conclusion

We touched based with Arnie Hersch, Senior Broadband Engineer for the City of Ocala, who shared the story of the network. Arnie has spent more time working on the network than anyone else in Ocala.

As in many other communities, Ocala started deploying fiber between its municipal utility facilities, including electric substations and water and wastewater locations, to improve inter-facility communications. In 1995, copper connected the city’s substations for SCADA operations. The copper was aged and had been struck by lightning, which negatively impacted its ability to perform; decision makers at the utility decided to replace the copper with fiber optic lines. As they finished deploying that year, Arnie joined the city's telecommunications utility; one of his primary objective was making the most out of the new fiber network.

First, Ocala connected all of its 52 municipal facilities in order to improve connectivity and cut costs. At the time, city offices still used dial-up connections for Internet access. Within two years, Arnie had switched the city to an Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM), which allowed them to use the new infrastructure for computing and voice applications. The change opened new doors for the city.

logo-ocala-fiber.jpeg Ocala leadership decided that the Telecommunications Utility should charge the municipality the same rates that the local Regional Bell Operating Company (RBOC) had charged for a T1 line, which offers capacity of approximately 1.5 Megabits per second (Mbps). Even though utility poles belong to the city, the Ocala Fiber Network (OFN) also pays pole attachment...

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Posted June 11, 2018 by lgonzalez

Bartow, Florida, has owned and operated its own fiber network for years as a way to connect municipal facilities and offer high-quality connectivity to a few select businesses. Now, they’re on the verge of expanding use of their fiber by developing a pilot project to connect more businesses and also residents.

A Recurring Theme

Back in 2013, the City Commission had begun a serious investigation of the possibilities. The city has had continuing plans to use fiber infrastructure for smart metering for Bartow’s electric service. Many people in the community have also been unhappy with service provided by Comcast, the incumbent cable ISP.

The City Manager George Long also recently told the Ledger, that the municipal electric utility will use an upgraded electric system to allow customers more flexibility in managing their accounts and conserving energy.

“This program will include the ability to pay for utilities in incremental portions.”

For example, a resident would be able to purchase a week’s worth of power at a time, in advance, rather than have to pay a month’s bill at once.

“There are people who need to be able to do that,” he said, “and this will give them that flexibility.”

The $2.5 million needed for the pilot has already been included in the budget for the year. The next step for the City Commission is to determine the location of the pilot project; community leaders have estimated that the pilot will serve approximately 1,000 premises. They intend to address the matter in June at a workshop.

Bartow

The county seat in Polk County, Bartow, is in the central area of the state and home to more than 19,000 people. Industries such as phosphate mining, citrus production, and honey production play key roles in the economy. They’re also around 50 miles away from Walt Disney World and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, which makes tourism another important economic driver. 

The Proof Is in the Pilot

Pilot projects have become a common step for communities to take as they consider...

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Posted April 4, 2018 by lgonzalez

About a year ago, the folks in Gainesville, Florida, decided to commission a feasibility study to explore the pros and cons of various municipal network models. Residents had had enough with the high rates from incumbent Cox Communications. City leaders and leadership at Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRUCom) recently released an invitation for qualified businesses to negotiate (ITN) an agreement for services in their search for fast, affordable, reliable broadband throughout the community. Responses are due April 23rd.

They Got GATORNET

Apartments and businesses in areas near the University of Florida have access to GATORNET, a fiber network that was established in the 90's. GRUCom had deployed fiber throughout Gainesville and had been offering services to government facilities and some businesses prior to the Gig.U project. In addition to some 600 miles of fiber and a data center in Alachua County, GRUCom provides wireless services.

With all these assets, local community members who were paying high rates for Internet access from incumbent Cox felt that the community should be considering using the fiber to provide competition — and encouraging better rates. Last year the grassroots group, Connected Gainesville, made a potential municipal fiber network an important election issue by pressing candidates for their positions on publicly owned Internet infrastructure investment.

From the press release:

“Through the robust fiber-optic network currently in place, the addition of increased internet speeds and lower costs, will keep Gainesville in a unique position to reduce disparities in our community when it comes to being connected,” said City Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos, Chair of the Broadband Connectivity Subcommittee.  “The process will also allow us to explore new ways to further develop plans for smart city applications, infrastructure and communications systems in collaboration with private firms.”

Interested firms are encouraged to contact Clint Lockhart, Senior Buyer at LockhartCM(at)GRU.com or (352) 393-1250.  

Responses are due April 23rd, 2018.

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