Lakeland Businesses Lack Affordable Broadband, Consultant Tells City

Lakeland is rich in the amount of ultra-high-speed fiber optics running underground, but poor in the amount of it that’s available to businesses and homes at an affordable price. 

That’s the conclusion of Magellan Advisors, a consulting firm hired by the City Commission to assess Lakeland’s broadband needs and make recommendations on how to make best use of the miles of fiber the city owns.

“Without this necessary infrastructure, the city will continue to experience issues when recruiting people and bandwidth-intensive industries to the area,” Magellan officials wrote in an interim report they discussed with city administrators this week.

After surveying homeowners and businesses this summer, Magellan said owners of small and medium-sized businesses are frustrated that they are priced out of the market for fiber connections from available providers and rely on slower DSL and cable connections.

Most of the companies with a fiber connection responding to the survey said they pay more than $300 a month, and 40 percent said their bill is more than $1,000, Magellan reported. Seventy percent of the companies with fiber connections have more than 50 employees.

“With small to medium businesses contributing to 58 percent of the city’s GDP, it would make sense for the city to consider opportunities to help bring fiber distribution technologies into the market to support small business,” the report concluded.

The next steps for the Magellan consultants are to make recommendation on business models, which might include public-private partnerships, co-investment or the city becoming a service provider. A high-level report is due to city administrators by mid-September, and a final recommendation should go to the City Commission in November.

In a meeting with Magellan representatives on Wednesday, Deputy City Manager Tony Delgado said the penetration of fiber connections was lower than he thought it would be.

City commissioners, he said, will most likely focus on ways to make broadband more affordable for smaller businesses and bring service to underserved communities. There has also been interest in using fiber to improve education, he said.