Plan could bring faster internet to Okeechobee

OKEECHOBEE — At the Nov. 26 meeting, Okeechobee County Commissioners heard a proposal to provide faster internet service to Okeechobee County.

Bruce Boyd of Precision Contracting Services said Community Broadband Network is a public-private venture to deploy high speed fiber optics to the benefit of everybody. He said government entities own the right-of-way. The government entities put in the fiber optic network but allow private companies to operate the services.

“This is more of a utility approach,” he said.

The network that ITS Fiberand Precision Contracting are proposing is a physical underground fiber-optic broadband (internet) network that will allow direct symmetric fiber internet connections of up to 1 Gigabit to a home or business, thus helping fuel economic development in Okeechobee County.

The physical fiber network being proposed would allow the infrastructure and cellular carriers the ability to offer the 5G cellular/wireless product (if they chose to do so).

Mr. Boyd explained the county would own the physical infrastructure that would be underground within the right of way of this county. That infrastructure would be used by private entities to provide internet service to customers.

“The county is not the provider. You are the highway to allow that,” he explained.

“With deployment of community broadband, you become a connected community,” he said.

This brings with it the ability to telecommute. It also attracts new business and increases property value.

Mr. Boyd said this is important for businesses and individuals interested in relocating.

“People will call and find out where the broad band is before they decide where to go,” he said.

“Community broadband allows private carriers to become an economic engine,” he said.

“Once you have fiber, the opportunities are just amazing,” said Jeff Leslie – president of ITS Fiber.

Mr. Boyd said the first step is a feasibility study to determine what the county needs and how much that will cost. He said state and federal funding is available to help with the expense.

“We help you find funding,” he said. Once the system is built, “then we actually maintain it,” he said.

He said government entities get greater connectivity, increased efficiencies and control over infrastructure.

The company is currently working with Martin, Palm Beach, Broward, Indian River, counties as well as area cities.

Mr. Boyd said the first step is the feasibility study, which costs between $20,000 and $25,000.

Commission Chair Terry Burroughs said fiber optic connectivity is a factor in bringing in new business. He said the county needs the feasibility study to have the information to make a decision.

“To attract business there are four boxes to check: infrastructure, affordable housing, workforce, and broadband,” he said. “Right now we don’t have broadband where we need it.”

Mr. Boyd said the cost of the project could be $15 to $30 million, depending on the number of users. He said his company can help the county find funding for “the majority of that.” He said state and federal funding is available.

“Nobody on this staff knows what we have,” said Chairman Burroughs. “The feasibility study is the easiest way for us to make a decision. Once you’ve got the feasibility study, you should know what the architecture is like, what you need, and the cost.”

The commissioners agreed to have the county administrator and the county attorney gather more information and bring the issue back as an agenda item for a vote at a future commission meeting.

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