Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
Content tagged with "gainesville"
Gainesville City Commissioners dealt a severe – if not fatal – blow to the expansion of municipal broadband in the Florida city where Gatorade was invented. Last week, five of the city’s seven commissioners voted to reject a proposal to spend $10 million of its American Rescue Plan funds to build a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) pilot project.
As we reported here and here, city officials had been leaning in the direction of using $10 million of its $32 million in federal rescue plan funds to extend the city utility’s existing fiber network to bring high-speed Internet access to about 5,000 households caught on the wrong side of the digital divide.
Gainesville Regional Utility (GRU) has already deployed over 600 miles of fiber throughout the city, and for the past two decades, its subsidiary GATOR NET has been offering symmetrical gig-speed service to a limited number of area businesses, apartment buildings, government agencies, and community anchor institutions.
In 2017, the citizen-led group Connected Gainesville began a public campaign with the hopes of persuading city officials to bring FTTH service citywide in a market dominated by Cox Communications, the incumbent monopoly cable provider serving this city’s approximately 141,000 residents, 56,000 of whom attend the University of Florida.
Death-knell for Municipal Broadband in Gainesville?
In August we reported on the effort to bring municipal fiber-to-the-home service to Gainesville. At the time, city commissioners were wrestling with whether to spend a portion of its American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to start construction on the first phase of a citywide fiber network.
After postponing a previously scheduled vote on how to spend the money at a meeting in October, city commissioners earlier this month voted to set aside $9.6 million of the city’s $32 million in Rescue Plan funds to extend its existing fiber network to connect over 2,000 businesses and nearly 10,000 homes in areas of the north central Florida city identified by planners as neighborhoods where service is most needed. Those neighborhoods include Springhill, Grove Street, Oakview Duckpond, Stephen Foster, Lincoln Estates, Duval, and Highland Court Manor.
“This is a huge step forward for our community,” said Bryan Eastman, founder of Connected Gainesville, a citizen-led advocacy group that launched in 2017 pushing for the city’s utility company to build out its existing fiber network to serve all of Alachua County.
Our city residents are tired of the status quo and are ready for a more connected future with better Internet [access] options. Thank you to our city commission for investing in this future. This is not the final vote on this, but it's the biggest step we've taken yet.
‘Powerful forces’ Lurk Behind-the-Scenes
While city commissioners voted to “set aside” the ARPA funds for broadband expansion, it was not a final vote to fund the project. The final vote is slated for January 6, 2022 after commissioners hear from city staff on how they intend to roll out the initiative.
Eastman said that while the final vote seems likely to pass, now is the time to keep pushing.
“There are still powerful forces that don’t want this to come to fruition, so we’re doing everything we can to get citizens to reach out and tell their commissioners they want municipal broadband in Gainesville,” he told us earlier this week.
Majority Believe Expanding Broadband Access is ‘Essential’
A milestone moment is on the horizon for the north central Florida city where Gatorade was invented to rejuvenate Florida Gator athletes with electrolytes. Tomorrow night, the Gainesville City Commission was slated to discuss how the city will spend its $32 million in American Rescue Plan funds and how much of that should be poured into rejuvenating Gainesville’s digital landscape with fiber-fueled gigabits. (The meeting however was postponed today due to COVID-19 concerns and will likely be rescheduled in the comings weeks).
With city, county, and school officials in April having unanimously approved the development of “a plan to create Internet access for all people” in Alachua county, in the county seat Gainesville’s city manager has requested city commissioners approve using $12 million of those federal funds for the city’s utility company, Gainesville Regional Utility (GRU), to extend its existing fiber network to residents thirsty for reliable, affordable, high-speed Internet service.
Citizen’s Group with High Speed Hopes
“We have been working on this for years and this could be the last chance for us to get this started,” Connected Gainesville founder Bryan Eastman told ILSR in a recent interview.
The city’s utility company, Gainesville Regional Utility (GRU), has already deployed over 600 miles of fiber throughout the city and for the past two decades its subsidiary GATOR NET has been offering symmetrical gig speed service to area businesses, apartment buildings, government agencies, and community anchor institutions.
In 2017, Connected Gainesville began a public campaign with the hopes of persuading city officials to bring fiber-to-the-home connectivity citywide in a market dominated by Cox Communications, the incumbent monopoly cable provider serving this city’s approximately 141,000 residents, 56,000 of whom are students attending the University of Florida.
About a year ago, the folks in Gainesville, Florida, decided to commission a feasibility study to explore the pros and cons of various municipal network models. Residents had had enough with the high rates from incumbent Cox Communications. City leaders and leadership at Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRUCom) recently released an invitation for qualified businesses to negotiate (ITN) an agreement for services in their search for fast, affordable, reliable broadband throughout the community. Responses are due April 23rd.
They Got GATORNET
Apartments and businesses in areas near the University of Florida have access to GATORNET, a fiber network that was established in the 90's. GRUCom had deployed fiber throughout Gainesville and had been offering services to government facilities and some businesses prior to the Gig.U project. In addition to some 600 miles of fiber and a data center in Alachua County, GRUCom provides wireless services.
With all these assets, local community members who were paying high rates for Internet access from incumbent Cox felt that the community should be considering using the fiber to provide competition — and encouraging better rates. Last year the grassroots group, Connected Gainesville, made a potential municipal fiber network an important election issue by pressing candidates for their positions on publicly owned Internet infrastructure investment.
From the press release:
“Through the robust fiber-optic network currently in place, the addition of increased internet speeds and lower costs, will keep Gainesville in a unique position to reduce disparities in our community when it comes to being connected,” said City Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos, Chair of the Broadband Connectivity Subcommittee. “The process will also allow us to explore new ways to further develop plans for smart city applications, infrastructure and communications systems in collaboration with private firms.”
Interested firms are encouraged to contact Clint Lockhart, Senior Buyer at LockhartCM(at)GRU.com or (352) 393-1250.
Responses are due April 23rd, 2018.
After consideration and debate, city leaders in Gainesville, Florida, have decided to move ahead with a feasibility study to explore possible municipal Internet network models. Residents are plagued by high incumbent Internet access rates and want the city’s telecommunications utility to dig into solutions.
At a recent meeting, the city commission heard from Gainesville Regional Utility’s (GRUCom) chief business service officer, Lewis Walton, about potential models, costs, and GRUCom’s current functions. Walton also offered some rough cost estimates. The commission unanimously approved the motion to design a study, but several commissioners remain skeptical.
GATORNET For Apartments And Businesses
Even though single-family dwellings don’t have access to Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) from the city, some apartments and businesses have been connected to publicly owned fiber for years.
GATORNET offers Internet access to apartment complexes, many where University of Florida students live. The university is part of the Gig.U initiative, a collaboration between more than 30 research universities and the communities where they are from to develop high-quality connectivity in and around campuses.
Even before the collaboration with Gig.U, GRUCom had been offering services to government facilities and local businesses as early as 1996. The utility now has more than 500 miles of fiber throughout Alachua County, along with a data center; they also offer wireless services.
Residents Flexing Muscles
According to Connected Gainesville, a grassroots group advocating for city involvement in improving local connectivity, Gainesville households pay the highest Internet access rates in the state. They want GRUCom to offer competition to the incumbent. Bryan Eastman, one of the co-founders, recently told the Gainesville Sun:
Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) has been deploying fiber in the north-central Florida home to the University of Florida (UF) since the late 1990s. We briefly mentioned them last year when Gig.U teamed up with GRUCom, GRU’s telecom division, to connect neighborhoods and businesses surrounding the University with fiber broadband. We’ve since taken a deeper look at GRUCom’s work and like what we see.
GRUCom was born after the FCC reclaimed the spectrum GRU used for microwave control of its SCADA systems. GRU naturally switched to fiber, and in the process of running lines for its utilities, it ran into crews doing the same for Shands Hospital, part of the University. Realizing the substantial demand for fiber broadband across the county, GRU created GRUCom to serve that demand more efficiently.
GRUCom Director, Ted Kellerman, points out that, as an enterprise division of GRU, GRUCom has a mandate to generate profit. This essentially means that the network only expands on a business case basis, so prices can vary across customers depending on connection costs. Despite this constraint, GRUCom manages to provide reliable high-speed data services at reasonable prices.
GRUCom connects 100 public facilities including government, fire department, utilities and Alachua County Schools and Libraries. All facilities are on redundant fiber rings with route diversity and 10-Gbps capacity. Seven locations receive 1 Gbps service while the rest take either 10 or 100 Mbps. The average cost for 10 Mbps connections is $400 and $900 for the 100-Mbps links.
We have been following the Gig.U initiative, the collaborative effort between 30+ U.S. leading research universities. Their mission is to quicken the deployment of high-speed networks to universities and their surrounding communities to improve innovation, research, collaboration, and economic development. This week, the University of Florida announced they will be working with Gainsville's GRUCom, and GigU to bring fiber to homes and businesses near the Gator campus.
The area, known as Innovation Square, is a 12-block area between the UF campus and downtown Gainesville. The initiative will offer connections to residences for an introductory price of $99 plus tax. Connections within the district will be as fast as 1 Gps while connections to users and websites outside the network will be 50 Mbps. Business rates will be determined on a case-by-case basis. While the gigabit connection may be too expensive for many in the area, the infrastructure will be in place when gigabit costs drop.
From the University of Florida News:
“Entrepreneurs and technology leaders work in a competitive world where big ideas and enormous amounts of information need to move quickly,” [UF President Bernie] Machen said. “This is just what’s needed to attract those types of people to the Innovation District. Having a high-bandwidth community near our campus creates an environment that will better serve the mission of educating our students and creating a hub of high-tech economic growth for Florida.”
GRUCom is the telecommunications division of Gainesville Regional Utilites, owned by the City of Gainesville. In addition to providing telecommunications services, the utility supplies electricity, natural gas, water and wastewater services to 93,000 retail customers in the area. The GRUCom network includes 375 miles of fiber in and around Gainesville and delivers Internet, data transport, colocation, cellular carrier and wireless, and public safety radio services.
GRUCom informs us that the fiber build out will belong to GRU and the City.