As a City Commission candidate, I have spent time listening and learning about municipal broadband. What I’ve learned is municipal broadband projects are not an efficient use of taxpayer dollars. Failure is almost inevitable, and dollars could be moved from other public services to subsidize it. This is not a core business for city government. The city should decide based on whether it is a net improvement to Lakeland’s internet users and determine the impact a potential loss would have on the taxpayers. The numbers provided by the consultants are based on signing up a certain number of residential and business providers.
We need to ask residents the following questions:
If broadband were the same price as your current provider, would you switch?
What guarantee would you have that the City would provide better service than your current provider?
Would it actually be cheaper?
While we would like faster internet, what do we really need?
Lakeland does not have the billions of dollars that private industry can invest in new technology as it comes to the forefront. To keep broadband up to date, Lakeland would need additional funding.
Does the city want to take on more debt?
What if the subscriber rate does not cover payments toward that debt?
Where will the needed dollars come from? A dollar spent on broadband is not spent on public safety (police, fire, etc.) and future growth for our city.
What is your priority?
Additionally, Florida state laws cite ad valorem taxes on municipal broadband networks, specifically. The city’s consultant on broadband, Magellan, excluded these taxes from the numbers shown to the city commission. State laws also put requirements on capital intensive projects, for which this qualifies.
Additionally, state laws cite requirements to become profitable within four years.
The Broadband decision is not only about dollars and cents. I want Lakeland to bridge the digital divide and improve access for all residents. At the last Broadband committee meeting, which Commissioners attended, Mayor Mutz stated the digital divide could be addressed by policy approved by the City Commission. Foundation and other grants, as well as potential for public-private(P3) partnerships, could assist to close the gap.
I have managed large budgets in my career, and I know how to measure costs and benefits. With this background and what have I learned about the issue, I don’t support Lakeland undertaking the broadband initiative as a public entity. This is not the role of city government, and other options exist without the enormous risk this initiative would entail.