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City of Lakeland considering entering internet business

Polk County

LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – City commissioners in Lakeland are considering connecting the city’s hundreds of miles of fiber optic cables to homes and businesses, resulting in the city government becoming an internet provider.

“Our infrastructure is here. We’ve paid for it as taxpayers and I believe that every resident and business should be able to take advantage of that infrastructure that they paid for. We shouldn’t pick winners and losers,” said Justin Troller, a city commissioner.

The more than 330 miles of publicly-owned fiber in the city is used by the city and also leased to Lakeland Regional Health and the Polk County school board, according to Kevin Cook, Lakeland Director of Communications.

“We already have the backbone. However the real cost is what’s called the last mile and that’s getting that fiber from that backbone, that infrastructure, to the homes and that’s where the real money is,” said Cook.

The plan would cost less than previously thought, at least $80 million, according to new cost analysis from Magellan Advisors.

Discussions are in their early phases.

Commissioners were shown three options Friday morning.

The first, referred to as “most risky”, would include overlap with FiOS service areas and cover 112,000 customers total.

The second option excludes areas where FiOS already exists. It includes 71,402 customers in total.

This would minimize competition with Frontier, which provides FiOS in Lakeland, Magellan Advisors concluded.

The third option also excludes areas where FiOS already exists and takes into account if the city has restrictions on providing services outside the city limits. Forty thousand customers would be impacted.

Commissioner Troller said the funding could come from “bonding” or users.

“Homeowners and businesses would invest in the ‘drop’ to get the internet to their premise and then we could finance that on their tax bill for 10 -15 years so an extra $60 – $70 a year and they’re paying for the drop which reduces the financial risk to the city,” he said.

Commissioner Scott Franklin said he was happy the city went forward with the study and went in with an open mind.

“Cost is certainly a factor. To me, it’s a matter of cost versus risk. It’d be a new venture for us,” he said.

The city of Chattanooga, TN has been providing internet to its residents for several years.

The commissioners will get a full report on recommendations on August 5th.

Then, Troller says, the city would gather community input for about six months.

“I hope we can make the decision ourselves as the seven of us elected officials but if we have to go to a vote and have a special election for the constituency to put the final step of approval then I absolutely support that,” he said.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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