Can Gainesville Afford To Become an ISP?

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Last Thursday, the Gainesville City Commission voted to pursue partnerships to bring cheaper and faster internet to the area, attempting to close the digital divide, according to WUFT-TV. The decision came after a 200-page report was presented to the committee in April, by Doug Dawson, a telecommunications consultant and president of CCG Consulting. The report suggested that Gainesville can seek to become an ISP over the next few years.

After the vote, Mayor Lauren Poe contacted various municipalities, colleges, and universities plus school districts, to gauge interest in partnering with the city’s efforts. Over the next four months, city staff will research state laws concerning the expansion of broadband by the city, and consult with bond counsel while also seeking new funding possibilities, reported WUFT News.

During this same period, commissioners are asking for two surveys: one market research survey to define pricing for broadband and a digital divide study to understand what price points will have the most significant reach. According to Poe, he’s ready to evaluate all scenarios. “Everything is on the table for me,” he said. “What I know is that what we have now is probably not what our residents need or want. So ways that we can improve upon that will be the priority for me going forward.”

Dawson’s report noted that the city could succeed with a $50 gigabit broadband product. However, the rollout would have to include four service areas to obtain enough paying customers. Dawson estimates that between 540-850 new customers per month, over five years, would be needed based on the service area for the plan to work. The price tag for the project is estimated at $116.7 million within Gainesville city limits and $213.5 million if fiber is built in surrounding cities, reported WUFT-TV.

Dawson’s report also surveyed 370 potential customers and found that 38 percent of respondents support the idea of Gainesville building a municipal network, 35 percent said they needed more information, and 27 percent did not support the idea. Some commissioners voiced their concerns over this type of undertaking, even though they think it’s a step in the right direction for the community, noting, “we can’t do it alone.” 

Additionally, residents present at the meeting had sticker shock. “I don’t have an objection to aspirational goals,” resident Brian O’Brien said. “I think that many of you have fine intentions, but we have to live within a fiscal responsibility that the taxpayers can afford.”

Conversely, Bryan Eastman, a co-founder of Connected Gainesville, an organization fighting for better rates and reliability for the city’s internet, supported the findings in the study, reported WUFT News. Cam Johnson, public affairs manager for Cox Communications’ southeast region, attended the meeting and said his company is ready to partner with the city moving forward.

“We have the same goal: We get everybody connected and closing that digital divide. So, anyway we can help them do that, we’re willing,” said Johnson.

June 28, 2019

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