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Lakeland Wants To Build A Broadband Network

Downtown Lakeland

Another option for internet and TV service could be coming to Lakeland.

Commissioners are considering a plan to build a city-owned broadband network. The backbone is already in place—more than 300 miles of fiberoptic cable that brings high-speed internet to Lakeland Electric, Lakeland Regional Health, libraries, and schools.  

Earlier this year, city commissioners received a study from Magellan Advisers, which looked at the feasibility of extending the network to homes and apartments. According to Magellan, doing so would cost approximately $97 million and take two years. 

Hundreds of cities around the country have set up their own networks. In Chattanooga, Tenn., it’s become a major recruitment toolfor new businesses and residents. But Florida law restricts municipal broadband through ad valorem taxes and a requirement that networks reach profitability in four years.  

"There’s those that believe we could offer broadband because we operate as an electric utility already and we have some telecommunications grandfathered in, said Lakeland spokesman Kevin Cook. “Our legal team is exploring the viability of that right now.” 

Lakeland is looking to Ocala as a possible model. The city built a broadband network in the late 90s, before many of the state restrictions were enacted.  

"It's key to be slow, take your time and be methodical about your approach to building out fiber," Ocala Fiber Network director Mel Poole told The Ledger in August. "We've been in the black since our inception." 

Lakeland held a public forum on the proposal earlier this month. Residents can alsofill out a surveyon the city’s website. Friday is the deadline for public comment. 

Bradley George was a Morning Edition host and reporter at WUSF until March 2022.