Lakeland, Fla., to Host City-Owned Broadband Forum

Officials have estimated a $97.5 million cost for a citywide fiber-optic network for 44,000 residential homes and businesses, creating capability of offering symmetrical upload and download speeds of 1 gigabit.

by Sara-Megan Walsh, The Ledger / October 1, 2019
Shutterstock

(TNS) — Lakeland, Fla., residents have the opportunity to directly ask city officials about the possibility of launching a city-owned internet service and how much it will cost.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, city officials are holding a broadband community forum at the RP Funding Center to solicit feedback and answer questions about a municipal internet service.

"This is not a one-and-done forum," Mayor Bill Mutz said. "This is our first attempt to try to gather public opinion."

Kevin Cook, the city's spokesman, will kick off the event with a brief 15-minute presentation about what steps Lakeland has taken up to this point and review key highlights from the broadband business plan from Magellan Advisors, the city's broadband consultant.

Magellan has estimated it will cost $97.5 million to build a citywide fiber-optic network out to 44,000 residential homes and businesses. The network would be capable of offering symmetrical upload and download speeds of up to 1 gigabit.

A preliminary pricing plan ranges from $20 for basic internet service up to $200 a month for a triple-play package, which would feature 1 gigabit internet, premium television and a phone line.

Commissioner Justin Troller, leading the city's broadband task force, said city staff will be on hand to answer residents' questions on legal and financial issues Lakeland faces in launching broadband.

Troller said he expects City Attorney Tim McCausland will be able to discuss whether the city can become an internet service provider, as Florida is one of 26 states with laws that restrict or outright ban municipally owned broadband.

Finance Director Mike Brossart has calculated different ways the city might be able to raise the $17 million needed to begin building the fiber-optic network. Two options include raising the city's property taxes for a 5- or 10-year period or using a special assessment fee.

"There is going to be an investment up front, but you plan up front to save money later," Troller said. "Does the long-term benefit outweigh the cost for each resident and business owner? I think that's vital to consider."

The commissioner said he hopes to create an online calculator residents can use to see how the higher tax leveraged to build the broadband network might compare to a lower monthly bill for internet service over several years.

There will be one hour set aside Tuesday night for residents and business owners to give their feedback to the City Commission. Tablets also will be available to take the city's online broadband survey, which is multiple choice and can be submitted anonymously.

"This is not something you pull the trigger quickly on," Mutz said. "It's too big of an investment. We need to make sure we do an excellent job of gathering the community's opinion first."

©2019 The Ledger (Lakeland, Fla.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Platforms & Programs