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...