Lakeland-Winter Haven Lags in Internet-Connected Homes

Network CablesOnly six metro areas have a lower percentage of homes with broadband Internet than Lakeland-Winter Haven, a new Brookings Institute study says. And Internet adoption here actually fell 1 percentage point between 2013 and 2014, according to the study.

In Polk County, 64.1 percent of households had broadband service last year, down from 65.1 percent a year earlier. By comparison, the national average was 75.1 percent last year, and the Tampa Bay region as a whole had a 75.6 percent rate.

Broadband Internet — access to a DSL, cable, fiber optic, mobile broadband, satellite, or fixed wireless subscription — has become necessary, for job applications, access to government services and even availability of inexpensive consumer goods, the report notes.

Detailed  city-by-city data is only now becoming available because of new questions asked in the U.S. Census’ American Community Survey, the report’s authors note. They add: “This subnational approach is especially important because local and state governments play a lead role in guiding Internet policy, including infrastructure deployment, public outreach, skills development, and affordability programs.”

In Lakeland, the city government is working with consultants Magellan Advisors to determine whether and how to deploy its miles of fiber optics to local homes and businesses.

In a preliminary report in August, Magellan concluded local businesses lack affordable broadband options, and more recently city commissioners said they’d like to explore a pilot program to make fiber more available to businesses and homes in the downtown area.

The Brookings report validates efforts to extend the city’s fiber network, said Shane Mahoney, a leader with Gigabit Lakeland, an advocacy group.

“We have everything we need to make this a success, from the utility we already own being perfectly positioned to handle customer care and installation at the home to the cities’ legal framework that allows us to compete in the marketplace without hindrance,” Mahoney said. “The time is now.”

Some of the barriers Lakeland faces, Mahoney noted, include socio-economic makeup and education levels. Indeed, the Brookings report notes broadband adoption is lower among people with family incomes below $20,000 and those with less than a high education. Adoption is also lower among people over 65.

Meanwhile, nearby Tampa has attracted the attention of Google as a possible site for its high-speed Google Fiber program because of a growing high-tech and startup scene, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

The 10 metro areas with the lowest broadband adoption in 2014 out of the 238 surveyed, according to Brookings, are:

  • Laredo, Texas: 56.2%
  • McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas: 58.1%
  • Visalia-Porterville, Calif.: 62.1%
  • Dothan, Ala.: 62.7%
  • Beaumont-Port Arthur, Texas: 63.1%
  • Greensboro-High Point, N.C. 64.0%
  • Lakeland-Winter Haven: 64,1%
  • Lynchburg, Va.: 64.3%
  • El Paso, Texas: 64.4%
  • Yakima, Wash.: 64.5%

The cities with the highest broadband penetration are San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif. at 88.2 percent and Anchorage, Alaska at 86.6%.