Tag: "florida"

Posted August 7, 2017 by lgonzalez

If you’re a regular reader at MuniNetworks.org, listen to our podcasts, or if you simply follow publicly owned network news, you know an increasing number of communities have decided to invest in local connectivity solutions in recent years. We’ve watched the number of “pins” on our community network map multiply steadily, but every now and then, a network drops off through privatization.

FastRoads Sold To N.H. Optical Systems

New Hampshire FastRoads received America Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which combined with state funding, created the open access fiber optic network in the southwest section of the state. Over the next several years, the network expanded with private donations and local matching funds. Many of the premises that connected to the network had relied on dial-up before FastRoads came to town. But in part because state law makes bonding for network expansion difficult, Fast Roads will no longer be locally controlled.

The Monadnock Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), a nonprofit organization whose purpose is working to see like projects are completed that will improve economic development prospects in the region managed the project. MEDC contracted with another entity to maintain the network, which cost approximately $15,000 per month. Since they had achieved their core goal - the construction and launch of the network - MEDC had been looking for another entity to take over the network or to partner with them. They recently finalized a deal to sell the network to New Hampshire Optical Systems

logo-fast-roads-2017.png Back in 2013, Christopher spoke with Carole Monroe, who was the FastRoads Project CEO but has since moved on to ECFiber in Vermont. She described how the introduction of the network inspired incumbents to lower prices - a win for everyone, whether they connected to FastRoads or not. She also told us how community anchor institutions (CAIs) were getting better...

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Posted May 11, 2017 by lgonzalez

Preemption at the state and federal level threatens local telecommunications authority, as we’ve seen in about 20 states. When state laws usurp local governments’ ability to decide how they improve poor connectivity, they disregard an understanding of local affairs that is unique to each community. Some states are threatening to take preemption another damaging step farther with super-preemption.

Super-Preemption: "Super" In A Bad Way

The Campaign to Defend Local Solutions describes the problem like this:

State legislatures across the country have gone beyond preventing local governments from passing common-sense local solutions. They’ve begun silencing local voices using draconian super-preemption laws.  These laws allow special interest groups to sue local governments and in some cases personally sue local officials for doing their job. These laws are designed to intimidate, bully, and chill government at the local level. This infographic highlights where these laws exist, where they have been recently proposed, and what their impacts could be to cities, counties, local officials, and taxpayers alike.

Mayor Andrew Gillum from Tallahassee, Florida, recently spoke with Christopher and our Communications Manager Nick Stumo-Langer about super-preemption for episode 17 of the Building Local Power podcast. He noted that local governments need flexibility to meet the demands of local constituents:

“There’s a nimbleness to local governments that I think people have an appreciation for. The legislature [is trying to] exclude us from being able to make any investments in that space for the greater good.”

In order to spread the word about super-preemption, the Campaign to Defend Local Solutions created an infographic to help educate lawmakers, constituents, and communities about the issue. The resource describes how super-preemption influences policy makers, giving lobbyists and their corporate or special interest clients' power. The infographic also shows where super-preemption laws are in place or are proposed. Lastly, the infographic suggests how citizens can get...

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Posted May 11, 2017 by KateSvitavsky

Winter Park is considering creating an institutional network (I-Net) to provide gigabit connectivity to municipal facilities. Community leaders are examining the pros and cons of deploying a fiber backbone to 17 city-owned buildings that could save significant dollars and be used for other applications in the future. Some of the uses they've discussed include connecting traffic signals and street lights to address traffic congestion, a common complaint in Winter Park.

“When you talked about ... fiber 10 years ago, it was hard for people to see the future; now the future is here, and we’ve got to do it,” said Winter Park’s Information Technology director Parsram Rajaram, who is working with the task force. “Fiber is essential in my view.”

Not A New Idea

The Orlando suburb, home to 30,000 people, has been considering creating a network for years and last summer released the results of a broadband feasibility study to the City Commission.

“This is something that has been discussed at the city and the City Commission for a decade. If you’re like me, you hear from people multiple times about a dissatisfaction with the (Internet) service that they are offered, a fairly singular service… We’ve been talking about it long enough, and if we started this a decade ago, we would probably already have a backbone for the city that could be utilized,” said Winter Park Mayor Steve Leary

In March, Leary created a Fiber Optic Task Force, charged with making and presenting recommendations to the City Council. The Task Force is leaning toward suggesting the community invest in an I-Net rather than a larger project to serve businesses or residents at this time. An I-Net is estimated to take two years and cost $4 million. In contrast, connecting municipal facilities, businesses, and residents would cost up to $28 million.

Serving The City Saves Public Dollars

I-Nets provide cost savings and fast speeds to local governments across the United States because municipalities no longer need to lease expensive lines from large corporate providers. Cities and towns can also...

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Posted March 8, 2017 by lgonzalez

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...

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Posted March 3, 2017 by lgonzalez

The town of Palm Beach, Florida, has decided to clear its skies. Starting this summer, the city is engaging in an undergrounding project to move electric, telephone, and cable Internet infrastructure. City leaders have decided to take advantage of the opportunity and seek out ideas for Internet infrastructure, either publicly owned, or a partnership arrangement. Palm Beach issued a Request for Information (RFI) in February for Broadband and Communications Services; responses are due March 15, 2017.

According to the online information about the RFI:

The undergrounding project will continue in phases until every resident, enterprise and anchor institution is connected by and through underground services. This once in a lifetime event presents a unique opportunity for Service Providers to participate in potentially reducing their cost of providing infrastructure and enable Services to expand in to a new market.

Private providers have already approached the city for permission to install fiber-optic cable in Palm Beach rights-of-way (ROW) and the city hopes the additional revenue will ease the cost of the undergrounding project.

Palm Beach’s year-round population is around 11,000 but the coastal community swells to 30,000 during the tourist season. The community is actually located on a 16-mile long barrier island separated from its neighbor West Palm Beach by the Intracoastal Waterway. The community is affluent, with a median household income of approximately $125,000. 

We’ve written about nearby communities in Palm Beach County, including Lake Worth, Florida, where the community chose to pursue a free public Wi-Fi project as a matter of social justice.

Check out the details on the RFI at the city’s website.     

Posted December 15, 2016 by htrostle

The small city of Lake Worth, Florida, may undertake a free Wi-Fi project in order to boost economic development and ensure Internet access for all residents. The local newspaper and the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) support the project. They recognize the potential to connect low-income households throughout the city and the economic development opportunities that can benefit the entire community.

A recent editorial in the Palm Beach Post underscores how connectivity is a social justice issue: lack of access excludes folks from society. The editorial also makes the argument for adding fiber optic cable throughout the city, ensuring high-speed Internet access for all.

Social Justice

Many Palm Beach County residents are considered affluent, but Lake Worth has a poverty rate of 32 percent and poorly-ranked public schools. The editorial breaks down the statistics and points to the Pew Research Center’s figures on the digital divide, which acknowledge a class divide and an educational divide. Ninety-six percent of college graduates use the Internet compared to 61 percent of adults with a high school education or less. Likewise, 99 percent of adults with household incomes over $150,000 use the Internet vs. 78 percent of adult of households with less than $30,00.

“Modern society is so deeply networked that to live outside it is a very steep obstacle to ever getting ahead. It is, as [CRA Executive Director Joan Oliva] told the Post Editorial Board, a question of social justice.”

The Proposed Project 

Lake Worth’s CRA wants free public Wi-Fi citywide, especially in the lowest income areas. To blanket the entire 6.5 square mile city in Wi-Fi would cost approximately $860,000. The city government would pay $640,000 with the CRA providing the remaining $220,000.

The project is a potential boost for economic development. “A free Wi-Fi network in the city automatically creates the perception that the city is connected and technologically advanced,” said Kelly Smallridge, head of the Palm Beach County Business Development Board. The Palm...

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Posted October 11, 2016 by lgonzalez

This spring, Lakeland city officials began contemplating the future of the city’s dark fiber network with an eye toward making a firm decision on whether or not to expand how they use it. Rather than pursue a municipal Internet network, Commissioners recently decided to seek out private sector partners to improve local connectivity.

Too Much For Lakeland?

Kudos to Christopher Guinn of the Ledger for very thorough reporting on the issue. According to his article, the city will release a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a solution that provides Gigabit (1,000 Megabits per second) connectivity to replace the current speeds in Lakeland. Cable serves the community now with maximum speeds of 150 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and about 10 Mbps upload.

In addition to the difficulty of establishing an Internet access utility, City Commissioners appeared intimidated by incumbents:

“I look at us trying to develop and design a fiber-to-the-home (network), the marketing, the technical support and all that, and going up against current providers, and I don’t see it,” Commissioner Don Selvage said.

Pilot Won't Fly

One of the options the Commission considered was a pilot project in a limited area, but that idea didn’t catch on either. Commissioner Justin Troller advocated for the pilot project:

“I think we should have a test area. If that’s something that costs we can say we tried it, we invested in it, it didn’t work and we’re moving on and finding a private partner,” Troller said.

He added: “I’m not against going out and seeing what the private sector will offer us. I’m saying how do we know we can’t do it if we don’t do it?”

While a number of Commissioners agreed that high-quality Internet access is critical for both economic development and the residents’ quality of life, fear of facing off against incumbent Charter overcame any vision of how a municipal network could benefit Lakeland:

“For most of us there is not a philosophical problem with expanding utilities. This is a utility; we can pretty well justify it ... (and) when you look at the revenue possibility down the road to replace the hospital it...

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Posted August 31, 2016 by lgonzalez

In late July, the FCC released a Notice of Apparent Liability (NAL) in which it found the telecommunications giant AT&T Southeast liable for a $106,425 forfeiture. The agency also ordered the company to return $63,760 of E-rate funds it described as “improperly disbursed.” AT&T overcharged two school districts in Florida and, in a response released last week, are trying to justify their pilfer by blaming the E-rate rules and the schools themselves, much as a criminal blames victims for being such easy targets.

Funded By Phone Users

E-rate funds are collected as a surcharge on telephone bills; the funds go to schools to help pay for telecommunications costs at schools, including telephone, Internet access, and infrastructure costs like fiber network construction. The amount a school district receives depends on the number of students in the district that qualify for free and reduced lunches; schools with higher numbers of low-income students are reimbursed at a higher rate. Given that many of our schools are funded through property tax rolls, this means that schools in poorer neighborhoods that are more likely to need help with their budgets receive the higher reimbursement rates.

According to the program rules, phone companies and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that participate are required to offer the “lowest corresponding price” to schools. Providers aren’t permitted to charge rates that exceed the “lowest corresponding price” or bid higher than that price on contracts to serve similarly situated entities if those entities are eligible to receive E-rate funds. School districts do not carry the burden of getting the lowest corresponding price - telephone and Internet access providers are responsible to ensure that they offer the lowest price in exchange for the opportunity to participate in the program. Between July 2012 and June 2015 alone, AT&T received $1.23 billion in E-rate funding nationwide.

Filching In Florida

In Orange County and Dixie County, AT&T charged the districts prices that were 400 percent higher than other phone rates in Florida, claims the FCC. Their investigation focused only on two types of telephone services. The FCC noted that when Florida deregulated phone services in 2011, AT&T “dramatically increase[d] its pricing.” According to the the NAL,...

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Posted May 24, 2016 by lgonzalez

In August 2013, we reported on Lakeland, Florida’s dark fiber network that serves local schools, government facilities, and local businesses. Over the past year or so, community leaders have discussed whether or not to expand the use of Lakeland’s fiber resources.

A 2015 feasibility study suggested several other ways to use Lakeland’s existing 330 miles of fiber infrastructure to enhance connectivity for economic development and residential access. As the city examines its finances and its future in the coming months, city leaders are considering six avenues to meet the community’s needs. The options, some recommended by consultants, vary in type and investment and the City Commission will begin discussing the possibilities as they meet in the upcoming months.

Leaders Consider The Next Move

Lakeland is examining public policies that will encourage better connectivity, such as dig-once, permitting changes, and right-of-way regulations. With smart policies in place, Lakeland can lay the groundwork so they can build off progress made today.

In 2013, Polk Vision, a group of organizations, businesses, government, and individuals, along with the Central Florida Regional Planning Council developed the Polk County Broadband Plan. Another option is using the Plan as a guidepost and aligning Lakeland’s plan to support the goals set in the Polk County Plan. Connecting the schools to a larger network would be part of that plan.

Lakeland, like many other communities wants to give providers operating in the community today the opportunity to work with them to improve services. Another option the city will pursue is reaching out to providers in Lakeland and engaging in discussions to upgrade or expand services to better meet the needs of the community. (We haven't seen much success when communities pursue large incumbents, but smaller local providers are sometimes more willing to work with communities.)

SurfLakeland, the city’s free Wi-Fi service that is available in limited areas downtown, in parks, and at municipal facilities, could be expanded. According to Terry Brigman, Lakeland’s CIO and...

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Posted May 23, 2016 by lgonzalez

When communities decide to proceed with publicly owned infrastructure, they often aim for open access models. Open access allows more than one service provider to offer services via the same infrastructure. The desire is to increase competition, which will lower prices, improve services, and encourage innovation.

It seems straight forward, but open access can be more complex than one might expect. In addition to varying models, there are special challenges and financing considerations that communities need to consider.

In order to centralize our information on open access, we’ve created the new Open Access Networks resource page. We’ve gathered together some of our best reference material, including links to previous MuniNetworks.org stories, articles from other resources, relevant Community Broadband Bits podcast episodes, case studies, helpful illustrations, and more.

We cover: 

  • Open Access Arrangements
  • Financing Open Access Networks
  • Challenges for Open Access Networks
  • U.S. Open Access Networks
  • Planned Open Access Networks

Check it out and share the link. Bookmark it!

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