Tag: "florida"

Posted July 15, 2022 by Karl Bode

In the summer of 2021, Lakeland city commissioners voted 5-to-1 to strike a private-public partnership (P3) with Summit Broadband, part of a 10 year plan to expand broadband availability within city limits. But officials in this central Florida city of 112,000 have expressed growing consternation that the planned broadband expansion is behind schedule and more selective than expected. 

“I think this is the right move for the City of Lakeland as it will accomplish what was my goal: to make it a smart city without the burden of bonding out our debt,” Lakeland Commissioner Bill Read said shortly after the project was announced. “The private sector can do a job much better than any public entity, better than our city.”

A year later and several city leaders don’t seem entirely sure. 

Local news outlet LkldNow indicated last month that most Lakeland residents have yet to see service, and that Summit appears to have shifted its deployment priorities away from uniform house-by-house coverage, and toward select businesses and housing development developments.

Lakeland Mayor Bill Mutz said of the revelations:  

I am not satisfied with the speed with which Summit is rolling out service to consumers in Lakeland and concerned that they may have de-emphasized that express concurrent desire of the commission. Whereas it has been our goal to provide commercial business with improved Internet service, the consumer emphasis was originally and consistently one of our highest expressed priorities and motivations.

City Officials Question Partners’ Apparent Shift in Strategy

Under the city’s 10 year agreement with Summit, the provider pledged to spend $20 million over the next five years expanding the city’s existing 350-mile dark fiber network. Under the deal, Summit will pay the city $144,000 per year initially, ultimately switching to paying the city 10 percent of gross revenue on Internet services.

Under the terms of the deal...

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Posted June 21, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

Gainesville City Commissioners dealt a severe – if not fatal – blow to the expansion of municipal broadband in the Florida city where Gatorade was invented. Last week, five of the city’s seven commissioners voted to reject a proposal to spend $10 million of its American Rescue Plan funds to build a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) pilot project.

As we reported here and here, city officials had been leaning in the direction of using $10 million of its $32 million in federal rescue plan funds to extend the city utility’s existing fiber network to bring high-speed Internet access to about 5,000 households caught on the wrong side of the digital divide.

Gainesville Regional Utility (GRU) has already deployed over 600 miles of fiber throughout the city, and for the past two decades, its subsidiary GATOR NET has been offering symmetrical gig-speed service to a limited number of area businesses, apartment buildings, government agencies, and community anchor institutions. 

In 2017, the citizen-led group Connected Gainesville began a public campaign with the hopes of persuading city officials to bring FTTH service citywide in a market dominated by Cox Communications, the incumbent monopoly cable provider serving this city’s approximately 141,000 residents, 56,000 of whom attend the University of Florida.

Death-knell for Municipal Broadband in Gainesville?

But now that city commissioners opted not to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime infusion of federal funds for broadband, Connected Gainesville founder Bryan Eastman sees last week’s vote as a death-knell for expanding municipal broadband in the city, he told ILSR when we spoke to him this week.

If we are risk averse with free federal money we will not likely look for...

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Posted December 17, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

In August we reported on the effort to bring municipal fiber-to-the-home service to Gainesville. At the time, city commissioners were wrestling with whether to spend a portion of its American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to start construction on the first phase of a citywide fiber network.

After postponing a previously scheduled vote on how to spend the money at a meeting in October, city commissioners earlier this month voted to set aside $9.6 million of the city’s $32 million in Rescue Plan funds to extend its existing fiber network to connect over 2,000 businesses and nearly 10,000 homes in areas of the north central Florida city identified by planners as neighborhoods where service is most needed. Those neighborhoods include Springhill, Grove Street, Oakview Duckpond, Stephen Foster, Lincoln Estates, Duval, and Highland Court Manor.

“This is a huge step forward for our community,” said Bryan Eastman, founder of Connected Gainesville, a citizen-led advocacy group that launched in 2017 pushing for the city’s utility company to build out its existing fiber network to serve all of Alachua County.

Our city residents are tired of the status quo and are ready for a more connected future with better Internet [access] options. Thank you to our city commission for investing in this future. This is not the final vote on this, but it's the biggest step we've taken yet.

‘Powerful forces’ Lurk Behind-the-Scenes

While city commissioners voted to “set aside” the ARPA funds for broadband expansion, it was not a final vote to fund the project. The final vote is slated for January 6, 2022 after commissioners hear from city staff on how they intend to roll out the initiative.

Eastman said that while the final vote seems likely to pass, now is the time to keep pushing.

“There are still powerful forces that don’t want this to come to fruition, so we’re doing everything we can to get citizens to reach out and tell their commissioners they want municipal broadband in Gainesville,” he told us earlier this week.

Majority Believe Expanding Broadband Access is ‘Essential’

Gainesville Regional Utility (GRU) has...

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Posted August 24, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

A milestone moment is on the horizon for the north central Florida city where Gatorade was invented to rejuvenate Florida Gator athletes with electrolytes. Tomorrow night, the Gainesville City Commission was slated to discuss how the city will spend its $32 million in American Rescue Plan funds and how much of that should be poured into rejuvenating Gainesville’s digital landscape with fiber-fueled gigabits. (The meeting however was postponed today due to COVID-19 concerns and will likely be rescheduled in the comings weeks).

With city, county, and school officials in April having unanimously approved the development of “a plan to create Internet access for all people” in Alachua county, in the county seat Gainesville’s city manager has requested city commissioners approve using $12 million of those federal funds for the city’s utility company, Gainesville Regional Utility (GRU), to extend its existing fiber network to residents thirsty for reliable, affordable, high-speed Internet service.

Citizen’s Group with High Speed Hopes

“We have been working on this for years and this could be the last chance for us to get this started,” Connected Gainesville founder Bryan Eastman told ILSR in a recent interview.

The city’s utility company, Gainesville Regional Utility (GRU), has already deployed over 600 miles of fiber throughout the city and for the past two decades its subsidiary GATOR NET has been offering symmetrical gig speed service to area businesses, apartment buildings, government agencies, and community anchor institutions.  

In 2017, Connected Gainesville began a public campaign with the hopes of persuading city officials to bring fiber-to-the-home connectivity citywide in a market dominated by Cox Communications, the incumbent monopoly cable provider serving this city’s approximately 141,000 residents, 56,000 of whom are students attending the University of Florida.

...

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Posted August 4, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Even before the central Florida city of Ocala in Marion County became officially known as “The Horse Capital of the World,” the city – home to 61,810 Floridians and over 1,200 county-wide horse farms – was already galloping toward high-speed Internet connectivity. In recent years, the Ocala Fiber Network (OFN) has expanded into offering residential service, trotting carefully towards a citywide fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) finish.

It began in 1995 with the Ocala municipal electric department upgrading its substation monitoring (SCADA) system, which has been estimated to have saved the city $25 million in networking costs since. Over the past two years, OFN has extended the network to bring affordable, reliable, high-speed Internet service to city residents, neighborhood by neighborhood.

While the municipal network has been providing high-speed Internet service for the past decade to area businesses, healthcare facilities, community anchor institutions, and schools throughout the county, OFN launched residential service in 2019 and is now serving 2,500 residential subscribers in four city neighborhoods.

“We did four pilot neighborhoods. Our target goal was to have a 30 percent take rate in each neighborhood. In the largest neighborhood (the Highlands neighborhood) with a thousand homes, we have a 42 percent take rate. We still have a challenge in one neighborhood (Happiness Homes) with about a 10 percent take rate that we think is mostly an educational challenge,” Ocala Fiber Network Director Mel Poole told us in a recent interview.

After deploying 800 miles of fiber, overhead and underground, Poole said, OFN is seeing “steady, methodical growth” of its residential subscriber base “mostly by word-of-mouth” while they continue to sign up new business customers. And, he said, from a financial perspective “we are still in the black.”

OFN Powers Through Pandemic

The network really showcased its value with the onset of the pandemic. Besides having the capacity to handle...

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Posted August 3, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio

There are more than 600 wireline municipal broadband networks operating across the United States today. And while the ongoing discussion about our information infrastructure by Congress has placed a renewed emphasis on publicly owned endeavors to improving Internet access, the reality is that cities around the country have been successfully demonstrating the wide variety of successful approaches for decades.

In this report, published by the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society, ILSR's Sean Gonsalves, Christopher Mitchell, and Jericho Casper profile how six community networks in a diverse range of places stepped up to meet the needs of their communities, bringing faster, more reliable, and more affordable service. 

It covers:

  • Huntsville, Alabama
  • Conway, Arkansas
  • Ocala, Florida
  • Dalton, Georgia
  • Ammon, Idaho
  • Cheshire County, New Hampshire

The projects above, the report shows, run the gamut from municipally owned and operated fiber networks, to cable system upgrades, to last-mile open access networks, to public-private partnerships.

From Benton:

Communities seeking to create a more competitive broadband market and/or target low-income neighborhoods with high-quality, modestly priced service are increasingly building their own networks, whether in partnership with ISPs or on their own. Local governments considering this option have to do their homework to find appropriate consultants, vendors, business models, and more.

But as the communities profiled here demonstrate, there are many models and opportunities to improve Internet access.

This report offers a preview of a large compendium of case studies  - to be published by Benton later this summer - showing how dozens of community networks have brought thoughtful investment and better Internet access to communities all around the country.  "While including explorations of some of the networks that have struggled," the report "concentrates on the vast majority of community-led broadband networks which have succeeded, providing robust service where it had...

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Posted July 19, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Snapshot

Maine broadband authority redefines statewide broadband as symmetrical 100/100 Mbps connection

California Legislature and Governor reach $5.25 billion agreement on statewide middle-mile network

New Hampshire matching grant initiative aiming to promote partnerships signed by Governor

The State Scene 

Maine

The Maine Senate recently enrolled a bill (L.D. 1432) amending the Municipal Gigabit Broadband Access Fund to only allow communities, municipalities, and regional utilities access to grants through the program. The bill became law without State Governor Janet Mills’ signature on June 24. 

The legislation removes limits placed on the number of grants able to be awarded per project, but limits the amount of funds that may be distributed per project to 50 percent of total costs. The bill, aiming to support the deployment of municipal gigabit fiber optic networks, also requires the ConnectMaine (ConnectME) Authority to establish minimum upload and download speed definitions to foster widespread availability of symmetric high-speed Internet access, beginning in 2025. 

Members of the ConnectME Authority are one step ahead of state legislators. During a June virtual emergency meeting, the ConnectME Authority voted (5 yes-1 abstention) to set the statewide definition of what constitutes “broadband” as a symmetrical 100/100 megabit per second (Mbps) Internet connection. The public board also moved (5 yes-1 no) to redesignate what “underserved” means, defining it as areas which lack access to Internet connections at 50/10 Mbps. 

Before...

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Posted July 19, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio

The winners of the Truist EPIC grant program, which we wrote about earlier this year, have been announced.

47 projects applied for the funds. Innovative, community-centered projects in Florida and Alabama will be taking home money. So too is Wilson, North Carolina for an expansion of its municipal network, Greenlight. The awards will be distributed by the Internet Society:

Five recipients will share $1 million in grant funding to expand broadband access in their communities as part of the Truist Expanding Potential in Communities (EPIC) Grant. The grant program supports broadband initiatives to help alleviate disparities in education, employment and social welfare in the Southeastern United States.

The grants are "directed toward supporting community networks built, owned and operated by local governments and organizations." 

The full list includes:

  • The Duval County Public Schools will receive $180,000 for Project OVERCOME21, a plan to turn schools in the Florida district into local broadband hubs for the surrounding community. The hubs boost signals to a three-mile radius and connect to the school district’s existing network.
  • The Tuskegee Housing Authority will receive nearly $180,000 for its Jesup “Cyber Wagon” Project in Tuskegee, Ala. The project will provide broadband access to low-income, Black communities where a lack of Internet has hindered access to health, education and other services.
  • The City of Wilson, N.C., has been granted nearly $180,000 to expand North Carolina’s Community Broadband fiber-to-the-home into a rural, majority Black community in Wilson County.
  • The City of Williston, Fla., will receive $108,000 for its broadband program, COWLink, to support efforts to improve access and speed of broadband for local businesses, schools and homes.
  • Wave 7 Communications will receive more than $150,000 to connect residents of Enfield, N.C. and outlying rural areas, train digital stewards and provide online learning to residents.

In a press release, Internet Society Regional Vice President for...

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Posted May 11, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Snapshot

Florida Legislature rewrites utility pole bill to include language backed by municipal electric utilities

North Carolina’s County Broadband Authority Act includes clause drawing criticism from electric co-ops

Oklahoma Governor signs mapping bill, vetoes measure adding Tribal representation to state broadband council

The State Scene

Florida

A Florida bill, which included provisions that would have forced Florida’s municipal electric utilities and their ratepayers to pay private Internet Service Providers’ utility pole make-ready costs, was significantly revised before passing the State House by a unanimous vote of 115-0 on April 28.

H.B. 1239, which no longer includes the make-ready costs provisions, initially read like a regulatory wishlist for incumbent cable monopolies until it was redrafted to become a legislative package aimed at improving broadband deployment across the state. The revised bill now heads to the State Gov. Ron DeSantis for approval.

The final version of the bill establishes additional duties for Florida’s Office of Broadband, creates a state broadband grant program, and requires the Office to conduct mapping of unserved and underserved areas of the state -- a significant deviation from the version that was first introduced in February.

The initial version was sponsored by the Florida Internet and Television Association, of which Charter and Comcast are members, capitol insiders noted. Proponents of the initial language argued that lowering the costs municipal electric utilities charge private ISPs for attaching to their utility poles was a necessary prerequisite to attract private investment in rural communities, and would have required electric utilities statewide to provide private ISPs with access to their poles at a capped rate. The stripped-out portion of the bill had also included tax exemptions on the majority of equipment private ISPs purchased.

... Read more
Posted April 5, 2021 by Jericho Casper

A pair of bills making the rounds through Florida’s state legislature are an attack on the state’s urban municipal electric utility ratepayers to the financial benefit of big cable monopolies, under the guise of expanding rural broadband.

H.B. 1239 and S.B. 1592 read like regulatory wishlists for Florida’s big Internet service providers. Word around the capitol is that the bills are heavily influenced by Charter Spectrum, the major incumbent cable Internet provider in the region (insiders also noted in an interview that it was sponsored by the Florida Internet and Television Association, of which Charter and Comcast are members).

H.B. 1239/S.B. 1592 would require municipal electric utilities to provide private companies with access to their poles at a capped rate, though the cost of attaching new telecommunications infrastructure differs based on size, shape, and weight. Florida’s municipal electric utilities, and their ratepayers, would be burdened with any additional costs that surpass the capped rate. 

The bills would further require electric utilities to reengineer utility poles to accommodate broadband providers’ attachment requests within 90 days of receiving them. In some instances, municipal electric utilities would be forced to cover the full costs of pole replacements, rather than the new attacher.

At ILSR, we are concerned that make-ready policies do discourage competition and we have encouraged streamlined access and consistent, fair rates to ensure Internet service providers can pursue efficient deployment. However, this bill would force electric ratepayers, including residents and local businesses, to shoulder more of the burden for private firms like Charter Spectrum and AT&T with the latter avoiding paying their fair share of attachment costs. 

H.B. 1239/S.B. 1592 are moving quickly through Florida’s House and Senate, with each having three committees of reference under their belt. As Florida’s legislature wraps up the fourth week of a 60-day session, many are fearful some version of...

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