Summit Broadband, which partnered with the city of Lakeland to provide high-speed internet service to local homes and businesses, has shifted its residential roll-out plans away from individual homes in favor of “multi-family communities.” A displeased Mayor Bill Mutz says he wants answers from the company.
Kevin Coyne, president of Orlando-based Summit, told Lakeland city commissioners in February that the company planned to make service available by June (this month) to roughly 5,000 residents of neighborhoods between downtown and Edgewood Drive.
Soon after that, residents of the targeted areas received a form letter saying fiber-optic installation would be “starting soon.”
But Summit has not started placing fiber optic cable in those neighborhoods yet. Instead, competitor Frontier Communications has been aggressively placing fiber optics and marketing high-speed internet in neighborhoods south of downtown.
This article began as a consumer piece to help residents decide between long-term provider Spectrum Internet, Frontier or Summit. Because some residents were waiting to find out when promised Summit service would be available, we asked the company whether residential service is available in Lakeland yet, when it would be available, whether business service is available yet, and whether Frontier’s push into the area has altered Summit’s plans.
The company’s response came via &Barr, an Orlando advertising and public relations firm. It said:
“Summit Broadband has been working diligently to launch services in the city of Lakeland. While service to individual homes is not currently available, we are currently offering service to businesses and multi-family communities. In fact, we’re excited to already be serving more than a dozen local businesses in addition to becoming a provider of internet services for the Surf Lakeland project.”
Mayor Bill Mutz said he was not satisfied with that response when LkldNow forwarded it to him.
“I am not satisfied with the speed with which Summit is rolling out service to consumers in Lakeland and concerned that they may have de-emphasized that express concurrent desire of the commission,” he said via email. “Whereas it has been our goal to provide commercial business with improved Internet service, the consumer emphasis was originally and consistently one of our highest expressed priorities and motivations.”
He continued: “I will request that the commission will receive an update from Summit specifically addressing a timing schedule for consumer rollout by area. A designed delay otherwise is unacceptable from my perspective.”
Stephanie Madden, chair of the commission’s Broadband Committee, said today that Summit’s response to LkldNow “was not at all encouraging.” She said she plans to bring up the topic on Friday morning when commissioners meet for an agenda workshop.
Madden sent an email on Saturday to Summit’s Coyne asking for an update, saying residents are asking her whether to wait for Summit rather than contracting with Frontier. She said she has not received a response.
LkldNow has asked Summit’s spokeswoman which multi-family communities the company is working with and how many potential customers are involved. We have not heard back on those questions yet.
Summit also did not address the question of whether Frontier’s push into central Lakeland neighborhoods has altered their strategy. But Coyne did mention Frontier’s presence when he spoke to city commissioners in February, telling them, “You’ve kind of woken the sleeping giant by bringing us in, which is great. They don’t want to invest money until they have competition. They have competition now, and they’re coming in and we’re OK with that because you’re going to see that we’re offering not only faster speeds but a full suite of products.”
City commissioners selected Summit last July after soliciting proposals from companies to build a commercial broadband business upon the city’s 330 miles of dark fiber. Summit pledged to invest at least $20 million in the project, but Coyne indicated the investment will be far greater. In addition, Summit will pay the city $144,000 per year in the initial years of the contract and as revenues increase, will switch to paying the city 10 percent of gross revenue on Internet services.
Under the city’s agreement with Summit:
- The city will continue serving its existing nine dark fiber customers, including Lakeland Regional Health; the revenue stream brings in $543,000 a year, officials said.
- Summit will serve all new residential and business customers; that includes current city customers who expand to new facilities, such as Lakeland Regional’s upcoming behavioral health clinic.
- Summit will handle all installation, maintenance, billing and customer service for its customers.
- The city will retain ownership of its fiber network and will continue to maintain the fiber it owns.
- The city will provide up to $100,000 over the life of the contract to “augment” fiber in locations where there are less than six strands that Summit can use.
- Fiber might need to be augmented in places where splices result in speeds slower than 0.30 decibel per kilometer (0.30db/km). Summit can offset those costs against the 10% revenue share but not against the $144,000 annual minimum.
- The city estimates it will spend up to $250,000 per year over the first five years of the contract to support the project. City Manager Shawn Sherrouse said today that is less than the amount the city would spend anyway to maintain its fiber network.
- Summit will contribute at least $20,000 a year during the first 10 years of the contract toward the city’s effort to “bridge the digital divide,” ensuring free or low-cost Internet is extended into underserved communities.
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