City to study possibility of building fiber optic utility

Published: Mar. 8, 2019 at 10:36 AM EST
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By: Mariel Carbone | WCTV Eyewitness News

March 8, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) – The Tallahassee City Commission is moving forward with a study to determine the feasibility of building a citywide, fiber optic utility.

The commission voted 3-2 in favor of the study during a workshop on Wednesday. Staff will now begin developing an RFP for the study. Statewide, several cities own and operate broadband networks to provide internet services to customers including Ocala, Gainesville, Palm Coast and Fort Pierce.

Commissioner Jeremy Matlow brought the idea to the table and requested to workshop the idea during his first meeting as an elected official.

“In something so important as the internet, does the city have a role?” he asked.

There service wouldn’t come cheap. The city has 3,731 miles of transmission and distribution line, and it’s expected the total cost to build the infrastructure would sit around $280 million. It could also come in different forms, with retail service for residential or business, to service for public organizations and institutions and more.

Currently, places like public libraries, some city owned parks, and city facilities like City Hall already provide free public Wi-Fi.

Commissioner Curtis Richardson said he cannot stand behind the idea because of the high cost and the deviation from the city’s priorities, which were established at the city retreat.

“[Spending] hundreds of millions of dollars to simply build the infrastructure, for a business, literally a business, to compete with already existing private industry, I cannot get my arms around that,” he said.

Currently, 16 companies already offer similar services in Tallahassee including Comcast, Dish and Century Link.

Still, Matlow, along with Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox, says the competition would be a good thing.

“If you don’t want competition, provide better service,” said Williams-Cox.

City staff will bring the item back during an upcoming city commission meetings.