Spectrum and its parent company, Charter Communications, have announced a partnership with Lakeland Economic Development Council to provide 1 Gbps broadband throughout a business incubator slated to open in January.
(TNS) — Trendy tech phrases like "Gig City" and "Smart City" got Lakeland, Fla., residents excited Friday afternoon, but many were unsure what exactly Spectrum had promised to the city.
Spectrum and its parent company, Charter Communications, announced Friday their partnership with Lakeland Economic Development Council to provide 1 Gbps broadband throughout Catapult 3.0. The business incubator's new site off Lake Mirror is scheduled to open in January.
"It's not every day we get to make an announcement like this. We really, truly are excited about it," Steve Scruggs, president of Lakeland EDC, said. "This has been a long time in coming."
The 38,000-square-foot facility is in the final stages of construction, according to Christina Graham, Catapult's executive director. It features a 9,000-square-foot maker space for onsite production and a larger 5,000-square-foot industrial kitchen. There will also be a rentable conference room overlooking Lake Mirror.
Steve Powley, Spectrum's major account executive, said the company will provide approximately $75,000 in technological infrastructure upgrades to the building. Spectrum will install more than 30 access points to its 1 Gbps broadband for the incubator's more than 150 members.
"We are here to celebrate Lakeland's transformation to a Gig City," he said.
Marva Johnson, Charter Communications' regional vice president, promised the company's available suite of Spectrum broadband services means "Lakeland is Gig Ready."
Several Charter Communications staff members said the company has spent more than $32 billion to bring technological advancements forward since 2014. There were no details available on any specific infrastructural or connectivity improvement projects for the city.
"Are we turning a shovel today? No, we're not breaking ground," Joe Durkin, Spectrum's communications director, said. "It's an ongoing investment into Lakeland and the surrounding community."
Despite the lack of specific details for improved high-speed broadband, Mayor Bill Mutz gave high praise to Spectrum and Charter Communications.
"I'm grateful Lakeland is now a Gig City enabling immediate Smart City capabilities," he said. "The ability to access these services without requiring citizens to absorb financial and technological risks is a significant win for all taxpayers. This accelerated Gig City outcome represents the fruit of effective coordination with the private sector, utilizing Spectrum's extensive network and capacity to make it possible."
The city already has access to high-speed, 1 gigabit per second broadband service. Chris Bailey, Charter Communications' director of state government affairs, told Lakeland commissioners the high-speed internet was available upon request at their Aug. 19 meeting.
Durkin confirmed this on Friday: "Spectrum has 1 gig for our businesses and it's already being utilized, and for our residents."
Spectrum's announcement of Lakeland's Gig City Transformation on Friday was aimed at driving "awareness," or seemingly marketing the company's existing services.
"There are other businesses out there that are seeing this and will take the opportunity of it being available to help grow their business," Durkin said.
Commissioner Justin Troller, leading advocate and chairman of the city's Broadband Taskforce, said he had mixed feelings on the announcement.
"I'm thrilled the business community and those in influential positions recognize the importance of high-speed internet service but I'm not sure how it benefits the whole community," he said.
Troller said he was "extremely happy" for Catapult's membership, but he had been hoping that Spectrum might offer more.
"With today's announcement, I was hoping it would be more of a partnership for our entire community and not one piece," he said.
Hans Arndt, a founding member of Lakeland FiberNOW, a nonprofit group advocating for the construction of high-speed fiber-optic broadband internet in Lakeland, attended the presentation. Arndt said he still believes Lakeland needs to build and launch a municipal broadband utility.
"I think what we saw today was a commitment to bring good internet to one organization," he said. "What about the 44,000 other people who live in the City of Lakeland? That's the important part."
Troller has promised to present a resolution Dec. 2 to his fellow commissioners asking them to approve a public referendum be held on whether the city should launch its own internet service.
"I'm motivated more than I ever have been to continue the conversation with the community," he said. "The more who are educated on the issue, put the what-ifs to the side, the more who realize what our community has the potential to be — our possibilities are endless."
Arndt has been a strong advocate of putting municipal-owned broadband up for a public vote.
"Let the people vote and let them decide," he said.
The city commission's Dec. 2 meeting will be held at 3 p.m. at city hall, located at 228 S. Massachusetts Ave.
©2019 The Ledger (Lakeland, Fla.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.