Lakeland Commission Fails to Put The Broadband Issue To A Public Vote- But There Is A Silver Lining
In a commission meeting that stretched close to three hours, Lakeland Commissioners had a lot to talk about. But for the last hour and a half of the meeting, they discussed the broadband project. And in a rare display within the chamber, almost every commissioner weighed in the issue at length. It is fair to say that many commissioners had a nuanced view; they were aware of the benefits of having high-speed access to the internet, but a majority had concerns.
In the end, the commissioners settled on three things:
- They want to properly construct an RFP (Request for Proposal) to see if any private companies want to partner with the city to build a network to bring in competition instead of building its own
- They want to wait till (at least) February to decide if any private entities want to partner, if they can’t then they may strongly consider the public path
- At the behest of Commissioner Walker, they want to investigate how to best bridge the digital divide within the community.
Over the next few paragraphs, highlights of the commissioner’s various perspectives will be displayed- please keep in mind that the commissioners debated this for over an hour and a half, and if you want the full video, please go here to watch.
Justin Troller has been a significant proponent in favor of the broadband project since its inception. He was the one who called for the vote tonight for the public referendum. His main focus on the vote, even though it was nonbinding, was to strengthen the resolve of the commissioners by means of a referendum from the people. However, when many commissioners questioned the value of it, he then asked to put the broadband issue as a whole to a vote, with which commissioners declined until they learned if there were any private partners willing to make some type of investment.
“What I’m asking for is a referendum vote”…. “my goal [is to bring] the confidence from the electorate to provide strength to the process moving forward ”Justin Troller
Bill Read was hesitant about the project. He had many questions about the process, emerging technologies, as well as concerns on the overall cost.
“I’m not of the mind to step up and spend 97 million dollars…… and one of my biggest concerns is emergent technologies that’s coming forth. I am also not ready to ask for a mechanism to have our citizens vote, we need to vet this a little more”Commissioner Read
Commissioner Mutz mainly weighed in about process issues. His major contribution had to do with the process of the vote and brought up issues with “kicking the can down the road” if Lakeland did have a referendum vote.
Commissioner Franklin wasn’t convinced how much value a public vote would bring to the table. He stated that the city had already spent a quarter of a million dollars on looking into the initiative, and didn’t think a vote would do anything to change that.
“I just don’t really understand what a public vote is gonna do for us….. we’re already a quarter-million dollars in the hole just to look into this issue.”Commissioner Franklin
He seemed ready to make some type of decision though, either for or against, but stated that there may be outside providers that expressed interest in investing in the fiber infrastructure themselves, making Lakeland’s foray into broadband a moot point.
“I think I’m close to the point where we would be ready to put this dog and pony show on the road, but as some have alluded to already there are other people out there who are interested [in providing competition]”
Commissioner Walker seemed mainly concerned with the issue of the digital divide and how we could get private partners to deal with the issue. He still had many questions related to the broadband project and towards the end of the meeting asked city officials to find out ways to address the divide.
“At this point now, we have already heard from many people [about this issue]. My main concern is about the digital divide and how it can happen and be supported”Commissioner Walker
McCarley seemed to have many of the same questions as Commissioner Read related to the project. She seemed most open to the idea of having some type of public-private partnership. She was also concerned about the longterm costs associated with running the project and if the city had business being in the business of being a [internet] utility, but seemed like she also was ready to put the issue to rest stating “I agree that this issue has been talked about to death… “
“If there are organizations that would like to be a private partner with us, I would love to hear that and more specifically on how that would work because I think that would probably be the best-case scenario…”Commissioner McCarley
Commissioner Madden seemed to have the most impassioned speech. Touching on many subjects about the issue- one of her major points- was the long term strength and vitality with the physics of fiber optics
“Physics is on our side when it comes to light on a glass cable…”Commissioner Madden
Commissioner Madden also stated that she had some questions with the resolve of the commission and recognized the importance of a public vote to strengthen the commissioner’s resolve with the issue
I think [Troller] is right; he wanted a referendum because he wanted to have some kind of vote from the people to strengthen our resolve on this process… “Commissioner Madden
For the last 7 years, Lakeland has spoken about investing in fiber infrastructure- and the only thing that has changed is that Lakelander’s internet has become even more unreliable and the cable infrastructure’s ownership has changed. We’re still paying astronomical prices for the internet and the support we receive for the service has declined. Meanwhile, their profit margins are healthy and we still don’t have another option to bring in competition.
Unfortunately, due to lobbying by Internet Service Providers at the state level, the commissioners are right about the legal maze that we need to weave in order to get the fiber to Lakeland’s doorstep, but it’s one that we need start wading through. Our commissioners were asking good questions tonight, but I, like Commissioner Madden, question the resolve of the chamber. I’m fine with waiting till February to see if we have a legitimate private enterprise that would be willing to become a partner with Lakeland to bring in competition, but if history has anything to say, I’m willing to guess we’re just kicking the can down the road like we’ve been doing for the past seven years. Or worse, wading into another failed public-private partnership. I guess we shall wait another few months to see. What I do see is a real initiative by commissioners to get something done, whether that is some type of private partnership or public investment in fiber. I think 2020 will be the year Lakeland will see a chance for real investment into the fiber that can help bring Lakeland the promise of a connected future.
Interested in Lakeland Becoming A Gig City or Simply Want More Internet Competition for Lakeland?
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