Fort Pierce, Florida Making Progress On Utility-Backed Fiber Build

Fort Pierce Florida City Seal

Fort Piece, Florida officials say the city continues to make steady progress with its plan to expand access to affordable fiber to all 45,000 Fort Pierce residents with the help of the city-owned utility. The network, inspired by similar utility-backed efforts in cities like Chattanooga, promises to deliver multi-gigabit speeds at prices notably lower than regional monopolies.

Since 1972, the Fort Pierce Utilities Authority (FPUA) has provided gas, electric, water, and natural gas services to city residents. Since the early 2000s, FPUA has deployed 110 miles of optical fiber via its FPUAnet Communications division. In 2018, the city, frustrated by limited broadband competition, decided to expand network access to the public.

“Our network is moving along well,” Jason Mittler, FPUAnet manager told ILSR. “We have passed about 1000 parcels and will pass another 1000 next year.”

The full deployment is expected to take somewhere between five to ten years to finish, and is funded by bonds held by FPUAnet. The network is utilizing GPON fiber technology capable of 2.5 Gigabits per second (Gbps) downstream and 1.25 Gbps upstream in some areas, and XGS-PON-based fiber capable of symmetrical 10 Gbps speeds in others.

Fort Pierce FPUAnet logo

Mittler notes that the finished product should result in both last-mile speeds and pricing that regional telecom monopolies, predominantly AT&T and Comcast, are both unable and unwilling to offer. Especially on the upstream side of the equation.

Mittler says the plan remains to provide all locals with access to symmetrical 100 Mbps for $49 a month; symmetrical 200 Mbps for $69 a month; symmetrical 200 Mbps service for $69 a month, symmetrical 500 Mbps for $79 per month; and symmetrical gigabit for $99 a month.

The utility’s broadband tiers don’t include the kind of restrictive and unnecessary usage caps and overage fees commonly employed by both Comcast and AT&T. AT&T DSL, for example, is often capped at 150 gigabytes (GB) of usage per month, with each additional 50 GB costly locals $10 extra. Comcast charges users $30 a month extra just to avoid caps.

Mittler noted that the network not only provides additional benefits to the maintenance and operation of the utility’s other services, but is feeding other connectivity initiatives citywide.

“We have connected nine locations with Public Wi-Fi and are still working toward the installation of smart Kiosks in our downtown area,” Mittler said.

Fort Pierce Florida Neighborhood Fiber Map

Last March FPUAnet indicated the utility had expanded access into the Fairlawn area of the city. A construction FAQ provides more detail on the utility’s plans and timeline. As we previously reported, the Lincoln Park expansion cost roughly $2.7 million with funds contributed by the City of Fort Pierce, Saint Lucie County, Allegany Franciscan Ministries and FPUA.

Fort Pierce is also prioritizing deployment into more marginalized parts of the city, including lower-income neighborhoods like Lincoln Park, where the utility is partnering with Allegheny Francis Ministries, the city of Fort Pierce, and St. Lucie County to ensure equitable, affordable access to a service increasingly viewed as an essential utility.

“One of the major issues with bridging the digital divide is not that Internet access is not available, it’s that it’s just not affordable,” Mittler said.

A study last week found that the U.S. ranks somewhere around 32nd globally in terms of broadband affordability. Data routinely indicates that high broadband costs are a major obstacle in broader broadband adoption.