Summit: Unanticipated Competition, Regulation Delayed Broadband Rollout

The company partnering with the city of Lakeland to expand broadband options to local homes and businesses says unanticipated competition and stricter-than-expected city regulations have delayed its plans to provide service to residences.

That was the word today from City Commissioner Stephanie Madden, who said she spoke Thursday night with Kevin Coyne, the president of Summit Broadband of Orlando, the company that was selected in a competitive process and awarded a contract last July to build new services off of the city’s 330 miles of dark fiber.

Madden gave an update this morning to the three other commissioners attending an agenda study workshop. The update came after LkldNow reported on Wednesday that Summit has shifted its residential roll-out plans away from individual homes in favor of multi-family communities.

That article quoted a Summit spokeswoman saying, 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.”

Last February, Coyne told city commissioners the company would serve 5,000 residents in neighborhoods between downtown and Edgewood Drive by June.

Summit’s frustrations involve both competitor Frontier Communications and unanticipated city regulations, Madden said:

  • Summit disclosed the neighborhoods it would serve first in public meetings, so Frontier focused its efforts on installing fiber optics in the same areas.
  • Because Frontier’s digging had pierced electric, water and sewer lines, the city tightened its regulations. That, Coyne said in a letter to Madden, “significantly increased our costs to build and time to build.”

Coyne cited several specifics in his letter to Madden. In his words:

  • No missile boring in city limits driving up the cost of placing per foot on roughly 50% of the build.
  • Engineered soft digs to expose existing city infrastructure $2,000 per dig. If not located, you have to hire a survey company to perform engineered utility locates.
  • The city is holding back work orders for construction … feeding us 2 to 3 work orders at a time.
  • No additional permits released to construct until 1 work order is completely restored and inspected.
  • Once 4K feet is built, restoration must take place.
  • Only working on 2 streets at one time
  • All crews will carry erosion control and run off mitigation at all times.
  • No work on Fridays

City Manager Shawn Sherrouse said he was surprised that Coyne has not talked with him about these concerns and said the city’s permitting staff has had a good working relationship with Summit’s local representatives.

At the same time, he told commissioners he wanted to allay concerns raised by Facebook commenters about whether Summit is fulfilling its contractural obligations with the city.

“The city is ensuring that Summit stays in compliance with the agreement that we have in place and … they’ve met their financial obligations,” he said. Those include annual payments to the city of $144,000 at first with a revenue share later, and an investment of $20 million over the next five years.

Commissioner Chad McLeod, who chaired this morning’s meeting in the absence of Mayor Bill Mutz and Mayor Pro Tem Sara Roberts McCarley, suggested that Sherrouse meet with Coyne about Summit’s concerns and report back to the commission.

Madden said Coyne told her he is hoping to partner with another company to work cooperatively in installing fiber more quickly in neighborhoods. That might involve a telecommunications company needing more fiber optics in conjunction with 5G wireless networks, she speculated.

“They’re looking and scrambling for ways to cut down their costs to build out to homes now, because the costs are mounting and making it more more difficult for them to get any return on investment,” she said.

Madden wondered aloud whether there was a way to streamline the permitting process for Summit while also acknowledging that the city is forbidden from showing favoritism to any of its vendors.

She said she understands both Summit’s frustrations and the city staff’s need to enforce rules ensuring neighborhood safety and integrity: “There’s no villain in this story. It’s just these are the contributing factors to why it’s maybe more of a challenge now than we first anticipated to get residents connected to the fiber solution.”

However, Commissioner Mike Musick, the only commissioner who voted against awarding a 20-year contract to Summit, said he disagrees with Madden: “I think they’re looking for a scapegoat and I think they’re using the city and regulations as as the reason for that.”

Ryan Lazenby, the city’s civil engineer manager, told commissioners he previewed the permitting requirements with Summit’s staff before any permit applications were filed. He said it wasn’t until earlier this week that he heard that Summit had any concerns.

Lazenby addressed Coyne’s concerns about permitting and regulations, saying:

  • Summit has submitted a “landslide” of applications to dig and place conduit on 116.5 miles of right of way. Staffers are spending their entire workdays on these requests; they have requested more information on some of the applications but have approved six miles of work involving 60 miles of conduit.
  • Summit was told from the beginning that construction permits would be approved in stages based on their ability to restore right-of-way that had been dug, “and they said they’re OK with that.” He reminded commissioners that they get phone calls from residents when contractors fail to clean up after digging in their yards.
  • Summit’s construction manager asked city officials to meet with his subcontractors. When a city inspector checked back a few days ago, the construction manager said, in Lazenby’s words, “Hey, we might not even do work in the city anymore; your construction requirements are too onerous.” That, he said, “caught us by surprise.”
  • The pneumatic hammers Coyne referred to are difficult to control and often cause unintended damage. The city has not allowed their use for 30 years, even though they are allowed in some more rural areas, including unincorporated Polk County. Frontier used the pneumatic devices in some of their digging, and it led to breaks in sewer lines that got into homes and had the company replacing flooring, Lazenby said.
  • The utility digs Coyne referred to are related to “sunshine 811” underground utility checks required by the state. “What we asked them to do is when they cross the utility and we asked them to figure out what the depth to that so you guys don’t bore through it. And they’re telling us that’s unreasonable. We have we’ve done that for years. We do it for everybody. That’s not a Summit thing. Their competitors do it.”

One local information technology executive sent an email to LkldNow saying Summit should be praised for its willingness to invest in infrastructure in Lakeland when incumbent providers Spectrum Internet and Frontier declined to do so until Summit came along.

“Now that finally we have a company that is willing to invest in our infrastructure, all of sudden we see these two companies are willing to spend money now that they have competition at the expense of this company,” wrote Nick Nicholas, director of finance and administration at DSM Technology, a Lakeland data infrastructure company. “We should be thankful that this company chose to take the business risk which made these companies all of sudden believe that our community is worth their investment.”