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Tallahassee To Explore Creation Of A New, High-Speed Fiber Internet Utility

A woman sits at a wooden bench outdoors. She's holding a tablet in her hands (undated)

The city of Tallahassee will explore the idea of creating another utility to offer internet services. But members of the commission are split on whether it’s a good idea. 

There are 18 companies in the area offering high-speed internet and four of them offer cover nearly 100 percent of Leon County residents. Now, members of the Tallahassee city commission want to explore the idea of starting up a new utility to compete with those companies. The idea belongs to Commissioner Jeremy Matlow.

“As cities get into smarter technology and having smarter infrastructure, control would help,” he said. “Not just service to customers, but how the city operates…this is something that prepares us for the future and gives a return on investment, not just a liability in the future.”

An initial analysis of the idea says it would cost the city $280 million just to put in the infrastructure and Mayor John Dailey is opposed: both to the price tag, and the idea of going into competition with companies like CenturyLink and Comcast:

“I would rather bury power lines in this community which is an issue we’ve been talking about in storm-related and the beautification of our city when it comes to the trees and the canopy. I think that’s more the priority of we’re going the that’s the route for infrastructure, not putting in fiber optic, creating a utility to compete against the private industry, which is a high-risk venture, through the detailed analysis provided.”

Meanwhile, Commissioner Curtis Richardson notes a similar effort in Quincy failed.

Desite Dailey and Richardson’s objections, Matlow, and Commissioners Elaine Bryant and Diane Williams-Cox opted to move forward, though Bryant acknowledged just because the city gives the idea more consideration doesn’t mean it will ultimately create the utility. A 2005 state law makes it difficult for municipalities to create their own internet companies. 

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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