Escambia County has taken the next big step toward a fiber optic network to provide true high-speed broadband Internet north of Ten Mile Road.
On Thursday night, the county commission voted to accept a county broadband study by Magellan Advisors and asked them to present their findings next week. The vote also split the county’s broadband project into two areas – north and south of 10 Mile Road – and committed $10 million to the northern portion of a $22 million allocation from the US bailout . The vote also called for a company to provide fiber-optic Internet access to homes, rather than wireless, as reported in Magellan’s study.
The overall motion passed 4-1, with commissioner Doug Underhill against.
Escambia County will build and own the fiber backbone network in the area north of 10 Mile Road with the $10 million, plus projected grant funds of approximately $5 million. The remaining $12 million will go to the area south of 10 Mile Road in the future.
The county will not provide internet to the house. Instead, they will issue a RFP to companies to be the end user’s internet service provider.
“’It’s one-time money,’ said Commissioner Steven Barry, who has led the effort for the past two years. “That’s why I want to try to mitigate the risk where we invest a fixed amount that doesn’t constitute a (future) burden on our taxpayers. Once we have invested the money, our financial responsibility is gone and we don’t take more risk.
Barry said he met directly with the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity about the grants, and that completing Magellan’s study will put the county ahead of the curve in the search for state and federal dollars.
The study envisioned the final delivery of the Internet to the end user from the fiber optic installation to the wireless towers. Barry said, based on conversations with companies likely to bid on the project, he didn’t want wireless in the house. Instead, he wants direct-fiber homes because wireless has limited range and diminishing speeds away from towers.
“We share your desire to bring quality high-speed broadband service to unserved and underserved areas of northern Escambia County,” David Deliman, vice president of market for Cox, told the commission Thursday evening. Gulf Coast. He said instead of building a fiber optic network that would essentially duplicate fiber optic connections to various government offices, funds should be redirected to help bring broadband to rural areas of Escambia County where the access “is limited at best”.
Deliman said Cox already partners with statewide grant opportunities and would be happy to work with the county. This would make the private sector responsible for ongoing maintenance, repairs, upgrades and customer service issues.
“This will ensure far less ongoing risk to the county,” he continued. He said most Escambia County residents south of 10 Mile Road have access to Cox, and about 30 percent of those are eligible for free or reduced-cost service through several programs.
During the meeting, commissioners said several companies have expressed interest in becoming an internet service provider north of 10 Mile Road using the county backbone, which will also provide fiber internet connection to county facilities.
South of 10 Mile Road, the county is exploring a fiber internet building partnership with the Florida Department of Transportation. FDOT plans a traffic operations center at Escambia County Public Safety on W Street and an advanced fiber-based traffic management system south of 10 Mile. The partnership is expected to save the county millions, including $3 million by sharing the conduit across the Pensacola Bay Bridge.
Magellan’s study found that nearly all residents in the northernmost parts of Escambia County do not have Internet access at the federally-defined minimum broadband speed of 25/3 Mbps.
Magellan Advisors of Denver, Colorado was selected from five submissions. The company has done similar work in Florida for 25 government clients, including Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach and Seminole County.