Florida City Plans Test of Smart Meters, Eyes Broadband Expansion

Bartow, Fla., has its sights set on plugging smart utility metering into its fiber-optic backbone, and officials say that could grow into a municipal Internet project.

by Suzie Schottelkotte, The Ledger / June 15, 2018
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(TNS) — Residents and business owners in downtown Bartow, Fla., and points north have been selected to take part in the city's pilot program to expand the fiber-optic network and potentially to provide internet access.

Bartow commissioners have set aside $2.5 million for the initial expansion.

Initially, the expanded area would be limited to smart electric utility metering, City Manager George Long said, but using it to provide high-speed internet throughout Bartow is being considered.

"Expansion citywide is going to be about 10 times the cost of the pilot project," Long said. "It's going to be expensive."

The city plans to equip the 1,224 households and businesses in the pilot project with smart utility meters, enabling customers to monitor and manage their electric service through their smartphones.

City commissioners decided this week on the northern district because of its blend of residential and commercial properties. Long, who recommended the area, said it will provide a comprehensive cross-section of uses when evaluating the project.

The city wanted to include about 1,000 customers in the pilot project, Long said.

"We have everything from single-family houses to multi-family and businesses and some level of industry, as well," he told commissioners during a workshop this week. "I think it's really a pretty good mix."

Eventually, the city would like to expand fiber-optic service throughout the city, he said, but given the high cost of doing that, decided to begin with a pilot project.

The city built the backbone of a fiber-optic system more than a decade ago to provide service to city offices, other government buildings and the school system, and will tap into that existing system when possible during the expansion, Long said.

The pilot project will roughly take in downtown Bartow south to Parker Street, north to Van Fleet Drive, east to 10th Avenue and west to Crown Avenue.

Mayor Leo Longworth said he supported the proposed territory.

"I'd like to see more," he said, "but we get to the west side, and that's great."

Long said the smart metering program will allow those who find it challenging to pay their electric bills to purchase power in advance as they need it. By paying ahead, they won't have to keep a deposit, sometimes up to two months' service, on file with the city.

Smart metering also will enable the city to manage electrical service remotely, including accessing monthly meter readings, he said.

For businesses, the prospects of fiber optic-based high-speed internet could energize Bartow's economic development. Commissioner James Clements said the increased capacity would broaden the scope of businesses that may consider relocating to Bartow.

With the geographic area now defined, the next step involves designing the fiber-optic system in the pilot area. Long said the city will begin seeking bids for that service later this year.

©2018 The Ledger (Lakeland, Fla.), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.