fbpx

Lakeland’s Gigabit Plan: An In-Depth Analysis Part 1



An Overview & the Plan’s Impact On Lakeland

Right now in Lakeland, there is only major provider to bring us the internet. That provider is Spectrum. They are a monopoly that offers poor service at a high cost. Most of us pay 65+ dollars a month for internet whose speeds, reliability, and service is sub-par. Many of us would choose another provider if we could. The city of Lakeland has been looking into providing internet service to its citizens as an alternative to Spectrum. A report was recently released that examines the possibility of such a network. Ultimately, we have to come together as a community to decide whether this is good for our community. The purpose of this blog post to take a closer look at the subject and provide commentary on the process.

Key Findings

  • Lakeland commissioners are thinking about creating a new ISP, VOIP and TV service
  • This may reduce costs to citizens substantially, with the lowest tier only being 20 dollars a month
  • The plan wants to utilize Lakeland’s existing fiber network
  • A phased rollout Pilot Program is suggested
  • Data Speed will be symmetric for residential access, but the upstream will be significantly limited for businesses
  • TV based services should be outsourced to a third party provider but still sold through Lakeland’s ISP
  • The City should create a separate department to service customers

How it Started

Deploying fiber has been on the Lakeland commissioner’s mind for quite some time.  In early 2015, commissioners noted that Lakeland had hundreds of miles of underutilized fiber. The fiber was only serving a few local businesses, schools, and the Lakeland library. That prompted them to look into the idea of Municipal broadband. In early 2016 a feasibility study was commissioned by the board.  Here’s a link to the first study that was completed in 2016.

Who were the Major Backers?

Justin Troller is a Lakeland city commissioner and has been a major advocate for Lakeland’s Gigabit network since the commission did a study in early 2016. He has been continually pushing this issue since its inception. Another major backer, Gigabit Lakeland, is an activist group that has about 913 followers and advocates also has been pushing for a municipal backed internet.

A Rocky Beginning

The 2016 study mentioned above was a massive setback for broadband proponents.  City commissioners initially wanted the network to cover a much larger customer base which would raise the costs associated with deployment to astronomical levels. In total, the price tag was estimated at over 230 million dollars. For Lakeland, a city of only 100,000 residents, to fund such a project was an impossibility. Just to put it into perspective, the network would cost over 2,300 dollars for every resident. The risk was just too high, and it was tabled.

Who is Magellen Advisors, the company Lakeland hired to do the studies?

Magellan Advisors is a broadband advising firm based in Denver, Colorado. Magellan specializes in providing ” comprehensive broadband, smart city, and utility consulting service to create the most connected and competitive communities.”   Magellan looks like they have a decent track record bringing municipal ISP networks to fruition. Cities like Newport, TN, Palm Coast, FL and Marion County, OR have all utilized their services. 

A Second Attempt and the New Study: Magellan’s Business Plan for Lakeland, FL

On December 11th, 2018, the city of Lakeland asked once again for the services of Magellan Advisors, which is the same advising company that did the first feasibility study. This study is a 94-page detailed analysis about the Gigabit network’s feasibility, cost, how to deploy, and marketing. I will discuss the details that we all paid for in this analysis in the following paragraphs. 

A Deeper Look: An Overview of the New Report

Current Industry & Trends

Municipal broadband is not a new idea. In fact, over 485 organizations (285 Coops and 200 government) already provide service to their citizens. These organizations typically have much higher customer satisfaction scores than private companies and generate and sustain growth for the communities that they offer the service. There are two major reasons for this.

The first is that the network’s primary focus is to improve connectivity, not profits. When profits are the primary concern, the networks are shaped around that motivation.  Things like net neutrality and data fairness usually are frowned upon because they aren’t profitable.

The second is that these networks provide symmetric data plans. Symmetric data plans don’t really mean much to most home-based consumers, but they are a big deal to small business owners and content creators. What symmetric data plans offer is the ability to send the same amount of data upstream as they can consume downstream. So if you happen to make Youtube videos or send large files, you are not constrained by an overly restrictive data cap. That means working at home or running a server to host your blog or website becomes a possibility.

The Three Types of Physical Networks Discussed in the Study

Physical Network

There are three major types of networks. Like all things, there are benefits and caveats to different types. The first is the traditional cable type of installation known as a Physical Network. Companies have to go out and manually dig or run the wire overhead all the way from its data centers to the end users location.  This is very expensive and can be time-consuming and requires a lot of maintenance to keep the network running smoothly. However, the network is more secure, offers higher data speeds, and is more reliable. Gigabit Lakeland is pushing for this type of network. They are asking for fiber optic cabling to be installed.

WISP (Wireless Internet Service Provider) Network

The second type of network is known as a WISP (Wireless Internet Service Provider) network. This network is used extensively in rural areas because it is cheaper to deploy. Basically, it works by installing antennas around the network service areas (maybe 15-20 for the size of Lakeland) and having the consumer mount another smaller antenna at their location. To the end-user, it works the same way satellite TV does, although instead of satellites providing the signal it’s an antenna tower. The biggest benefit is the cost. It is significantly cheaper to provide service to people using this type of network because the “last mile” of connectivity is done wirelessly instead of having to run a cable to every single end-user.

Significant advances are being made in this technology right now. The new wireless standard known as Wifi 6 (802.11ax) can provide speeds of up to 10Mbit per second. This is enough bandwidth to run 250 simultaneous Netflix streams in perfect conditions (real world is closer to half that or 125 streams). 

There are some downsides though; most wireless deployments require a direct line of sight between the customer and the tower. So if there are lots of trees or buildings in the way you may be out of luck. Also, if there is a lot of interference from another wireless service, signal degradation can occur, causing slower speeds. Because of these factors, most urban areas do not use wireless services as a primary ISP. 

5G Network

The big hype right now is 5G networks. Most cellphone carriers are actively developing these throughout the USA. The fundamental technology behind this is the use of mmWave (millimeter Waves) to transmit data. 5G radio waves use extremely small radio signals to transmit data. This allows higher throughput at the cost of signal penetration (it can’t go through concrete). The carriers are trying to get around that by using extremely advanced antennas to steer the signal to the end-user.

My Analysis Between the  Different Types of Networks

All the different types of networks have benefits and disadvantages. For Lakeland, our best bet is to invest in technology that’s proven, reliable, and secure. Fiber optic deployment (like Gigabit Lakeland’s proposing) is the safest bet. It’s going to cost us more but will offer us the most exceptional speeds and reliability. Some significant advances are coming down the pipes in the future (maybe 10 years) that may give Lakelanders access to faster internet (SpaceX’s satellite constellation comes to mind)

But I don’t think I’d bank on that being a possibility in the near or even midterm. Additionally, history has shown that the best way to connect ourselves together is to run a wire. In the case of fiber, the bandwidth carrying capacity of the fiber is virtually unlimited, it’s ultra-secure and reliable. Those are things I don’t think wireless service is going to provide us even in the long term.

Where Lakeland Gets it’s Internet Now

Consumers

According to Magellan’s survey, about 85% of us get our service from Spectrum, the company who recently purchased the ISP from Brighthouse. The average price is about 61 dollars a month. And here’s the simple bottom line: Only about half of Lakeland customers are happy with their service. Even worse, just 2.1% of respondents stated that they would continue using Spectrum if another player entered the market.

Businesses

Businesses had a similar response; 87 % of respondents stated that they got their service from Spectrum. They paid, on average about 171 dollars per month for 80 Mbits. This can accommodate about 8 employees. However, this changes dramatically if the business utilizes VOIP (phone) services or video conferencing, so that number could vary. In terms of satisfaction, the numbers were about the same, with just less than half saying they were satisfied.

Author’s Note  these survey’s have a +- 5% and 9% margin of error:
One caveat here is that this survey would not be considered scientific because it suffers from Response Bias. In order to get an accurate cross section of the city, the survey would have to go out and randomly sample the city. – Editor

My Analysis on the Current Internet Market for Lakeland

There is a lot of room for a municipal broadband for this market. Currently, there is only one major carrier offering service and they’re doing a pretty lousy job. Put simply, if half of my business customers wanted to move elsewhere I’d be out of business. But that isn’t the case for Spectrum, whom happily reap billions in revenues.

Where the Gigabit Lakeland initiative should really concentrate their efforts though is on price. Half of all business and two thirds of all consumers want cheaper internet. And to be frank we deserve it.  On of a list of 100 countries, America paid more for internet than 93. We are only losing out to countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Stay Tuned for My Next Post on the Business Plan for Lakeland 


My Background

My name is Hans Arndt, I’ve been a Lakeland resident for my entire life and I am proud to call Lakeland, FL my home. I have watched it grow into the wonderful community it is today and extremely excited to see Lakeland turn into a major distribution hub for the Southeastern United States.

I have a degree in Business Management from the University of Central Florida and a Mechanical Engineering Degree from Florida Polytechnic University. I also am a licensed Electrician and am the president of Cellar Door Solutions, a tech company that specializes in computer and networking design for small to medium-sized businesses

In this post, I covered a little bit of the history and why this (may) be a good idea for Lakeland. I’m trying to keep as unbiased look at this as I can. I don’t want our community to pay millions for a frivolous idea but I also want Lakeland to make smart decisions, especially in technology, which is my specialty.

However, I see a lot of parallels between what our community is facing now with the Gigabit Lakeland plan and the founding of Lakeland Electric back in 1889.

At the time, electricity was just a new-fangled idea in its infancy. Most people didn’t even have light bulbs.  In spite of it all, the community went forward.

Despite its flaws, the utility has been an enormous benefit to our community; providing millions of dollars a year to fund our parks, roads and downtown district. Also, Lakeland Electric employs hundreds of workers at wages to support a family, something an outside firm like TECO wouldn’t do. They also answer to the people of Lakeland, not a corporation’s shareholders. That’s why when the power goes out in Lakeland there are crews working around the clock to get our power restored while other city’s residents are left in the dark.

I feel like we’re at a crossroads here, one that we all should look at together and make an informed decision on. Is it a good idea to provide internet connectivity?  What’s the best plan forward? These are all things that need to be addressed.

There is a lot to this document which is too much to cover for one post.  In the next few days and weeks I plan to really dive deep into the plan. I also plan on providing more analysis on the topic as more comes in. Please bookmark or follow me if you are interested in this and the future of the plan