Multimillion-dollar High-Speed Internet Project Deploys in 10 Florida Cities; One is a small town in Alachua County with fewer than 1,000 residents.
The city of Micanopy received nearly $3 million on August 22 to boost broadband internet access, which is affordable high-speed internet options. The funding is part of the Community Development Block Grant coronavirus program overseen by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.
The program is funded by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, which distributed $5 billion statewide for the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. It aims to help local governments address the negative economic impacts caused by the pandemic, including the need to upgrade broadband infrastructure in affected communities.
Megan Beckham, a 32-year-old Gainesville resident who used to live in Micanopy, said everyone she knew had internet problems.
“If you’re working from home and your job depends on you having internet access, that can be a pretty patchy area for that,” she said.
Internet problems have also affected businesses, as many accept credit cards as payment, she said. If they lost connection to their systems, Beckham said all they would have to do was take cash.
Micanopy City Administrator and Clerk Sara Owen said the pandemic has made internet problems more apparent. Working from home became a challenge because of the connection issues, she said.
The city asked for the grant, Owen said, to specifically address high-speed Internet issues, and the money will be “incredibly helpful.”
There are several options for high-speed internet, but Owen said there’s a “good chance” they’ll get fiber internet support. Fiber optic internet sends data over a fiber optic cable.
This method transfers data faster than traditional copper wire, and fiber optics are more resilient to environmental influences.
To receive the grant, eligible municipalities submitted an application by November 1, 2021. You could apply for a minimum of $200,000 and a maximum of $3 million.
After communities receive the money, their spending must meet one of three goals. The city or county program must benefit low- and middle-income residents, prevent or eliminate unhealthy or unsafe conditions, or address urgent community needs that pose a threat to people’s well-being.
Do you like what you read? Get content from The Alligator delivered to your inbox
Micanopy Mayor Ginny Mance said low- to middle-income residents will be given connectors that connect the fiber optic cables running either underground or from a pole to a router inside a home.
Governor Ron DeSantis has long been a proponent of broadband expansion. He signed House Bill 1239 to expand broadband to underserved communities in 2021. Additionally, in April, DeSantis awarded $22 million to 15 Florida communities – Otter Creek, Astatula and Fellsmere received the money to create high-speed Internet options.
“These $22 million in awards will help 10 communities meet their infrastructure needs and provide long-term services to their residents for years to come,” DeSantis said in a press release.
Other Florida communities set to receive money include Glen St. Mary, Springfield, Collier County, Fort White, Hillsborough County, Groveland, Lee County, Broward County and Miami-Dade County.
Broadband issues aren’t the only focus in Micanopy. In Gainesville, City Commissioners Adrian Hayes-Santos and David Arreola have called for improved Internet access.
In June, the City Commission voted 2-5 to reject a proposal to use nearly $10 million from the American Rescue Plan Act, with Hayes-Santos and Arreola dissenting.
When Hayes-Santos first ran for the City Commission, one of his top priorities was increasing Internet accessibility. Bryan Eastman, District 4 City Commissioner-elect, championed affordable internet for all. Eastman founded Connected Gainesville, an organization dedicated to bringing affordable internet to the city.
Activities that communities can spend the money on include public amenities, workers’ housing, public improvements, and public services, including broadband planning that creates high-speed Internet options.
Many of the cities and counties are using the money to improve sidewalks and roads, including Glen St. Mary, Groveland and Fort White, according to the DeSantis press release. Springfield will use the money to rebuild a community center, and Collier County will build a new senior center and library.
Broward County will use the money for rent subsidies, while Hillsborough County will expand multi-family housing for workers. Lee County will increase bed capacity at a rehabilitation facility to support individuals struggling with mental health and substance abuse.
Finally, Miami-Dade County will offer vocational training in affordable housing management.
“We are very pleased to be one of the 10 communities in Florida to receive this funding,” Mance said. “Thank you to Governor DeSantis for this community development award.”
In addition to the grant, Owen said the Micanopy local government has been looking for other resources to improve Internet access. She has worked with Alachua County to secure government funds that will help rural areas looking for better internet infrastructure, she said.
The district committed $15 million of the $52.25 million it received from the American Rescue Plan Act to help solve internet problems. The money will be used to provide equity in internet access and affordability for underserved communities. To accomplish this, the county created a regional technology planning team to develop a plan with the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and the Office of Broadband.
The State Department of Economic Opportunity also created an Internet Speed Test to help users find out their Internet speed. Every time a person takes the test, the software identifies the locations with slow internet speeds, which helps internet service providers identify and help underserved communities.
The final plan will include the number of homes and businesses that will have better internet access as a result of this project. It will also include a list of prices and internet speeds offered, how many miles of fiber optics are required, and what technology is required.
Contact Alexa Herrera at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @alexakherrera
The Independent Florida Alligator has been independent from the university since 1971, your donation today could help #SaveStudentNewsrooms. Please remember to give today.