Escambia County will explore the financial feasibility of a countywide broadband network following a study that found the county has large broadband internet gaps.
A recent Magellan Advisors assessment found that almost all resident in the more northern parts of Escambia County do not have any access to the internet at speeds defined as broadband by the Federal Communications Commission.
In a nonbinding straw vote of county commissioners at a Thursday workshop, commissioners decided to reserve $650,000 in CARES Act funding for design engineering, detailed business and financial planning, and grant services and applications in the first step toward a county broadband network. It essentially will create a plan for moving forward if commissioners determine the network is financially feasible. Commissioners must ratify the vote during a regular meeting next week.
The study identified about 3,000 under or unserved residents without access to true broadband in North Escambia. After the planning, the next step in the project outlined by Magellan Advisors would be a fiber based wireless network in North Escambia in areas from Molino north (pictured above). That move would take additional action by the commission in coming months.
The wi-fi type network would immediately offer high speed internet to 3,000 underserved North Escambia residents at an estimated cost of $79 per month for a speed of 150/50 Mbps. Additional fiber connections up to a symmetrical 1 Gigabit would also become available.
None of those North Escambia residents currently have access to the defined minimum broadband speed of 25/3 Mbps.
NorthEscambia.com will offer continuing coverage of the broadband project.
Escambia County provided the following additional information about results of the broadband study:
Northern Escambia County
In the rural northern portion of the county most communities lack access to true broadband services. Broadband is defined by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. Nearly all communities in Northern Escambia lack access to broadband speeds that meet this standard. Northern Escambia County faces the dual challenges of many rural areas: high per capita cost to build network infrastructure and low capacity to pay for service. Consequently, the area is simply not an attractive market for most private sector service providers. Most companies will not invest what is needed to provide broadband services because they simply cannot make adequate profits. These parts of Escambia County are not an economically feasible location for most private, for-profit internet service providers.
Southern Escambia County
In Southern Escambia County broadband speeds are greater due to increased density and the population center of Pensacola, but competition is lacking. Many locations are limited to two choices of providers with only one that meets true broadband speeds. Additionally, as providers have improved their speeds utilizing new technology, the infrastructure they deliver these services on are aging leaving the services unreliable and susceptible to outages and slowdowns.
The current broadband environment in Escambia County has direct impacts on its citizens’ and businesses’ abilities to compete for economic development opportunities, gain access to online education and health care, and participate in the same quality of life afforded to residents in communities with affordable, reliable and accessible broadband. With the right plan and phased investments Escambia County has the ability to change the market equation so it is more attractive for private companies to invest and provide services, while also reducing its telecommunications spend, providing better connectivity to community buildings, providing a platform for Smart City applications and delivering redundancy for other public networks and stakeholders.
About Fiber Networks
Over 3,000 communities in the US have invested in fiber networks to support internal and community needs. In doing so, they have been able to expand this fiber to support other internal and community needs, from connecting county and city facilities, to providing fiber access to schools, to connecting traffic signals, streetlights and public safety cameras. In some cases, municipalities and county governments have expanded their fiber to increase access to high-speed internet services in areas where existing broadband services do not meet one of the four dimensions of internet service, which include speed, reliability, customer service and/or affordability.
Benefits to the Residents
- 1 Gigabit & 150 Megabit Internet for 3,000 Underserved Residents and Businesses
- Symmetrical Service County & Businesses — Same Upload & Download
- Locally Owned and Operated — Speeds from 1 Gig to 10 GIG
- Fully Redundant System with 99.999% uptime. No Throttling or Data Caps
- Dollars Stay Local, Reinvested in Community
Benefits to the Community
- Economic development has been a major beneficiary of this strategy as the small and medium business sectors are generally the largest contributor to the economy yet are challenged to find affordable high-speed internet services.
- Education — Provide futureproofed connectivity to all students/schools
- Healthcare — Support telehealth needs of residents and providers
- Transportation and housing
- Some communities have crafted their own policies to consider internet access a utility, similar to electric and water. In doing so, these communities have built their broadband networks to reach all citizens and businesses in their jurisdictions.
- Support future capabilities and reduce operating costs
- Self-Determination — Control over the future of Escambia’s connectedness
Communities have used differing techniques to expand broadband, from making fiber available to local providers, to developing public-private partnerships, to delivering high-speed internet services themselves. Each community must decide for itself the role it wants to play in broadband, depending on its unique issues, available funding, tolerance for risk, capabilities to compete and desire for overall control. About 500 municipal utilities, cities and cooperatives play a role in expanding broadband within their communities today.