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By Joe Gruters,
Florida Coalition for the New Economy
As the world continues to become more and more digital and increasingly reliant on the Internet, the quest to equip Americans with online access has taken center stage. In an attempt to provide access to people across the country, states have begun to create government-owned networks (GONs). Currently, there are more than 100 of these types of networks – one of them provides service here in Levy County.
While off to a rocky start, the North Florida Broadband Authority (NFBA) has worked to provide Internet access to citizens in a 12-county area. Last month, one of NFBA’s suppliers shut down leaving 80,000 homes, businesses and government agencies in two states without access. It’s another black eye for this project.
Taxpayer-supported, government-owned networks, such as the NFBA, have been plagued with problems since their inception and are now known to be costly ventures that produce little – if any – positive results. Our neighbors in Marietta, Georgia, sank $36 million into their GON – FiberNet. When the network failed to provide the access they needed, they sold it for less than half of their investment – a $25 million loss.
Levy County – like every other county in Florida – can’t afford to throw money away. In our current economy we can’t afford to make investments that produce little to negative returns.
While initially funded with federal stimulus dollars, the NFBA has become its own government entity established through an interlocal agreement between a host of North Florida cities and counties, including Levy County. However, that pool of supporting municipalities has dwindled. Citing concerns over delays in the project’s implementation and the way in which it was being run, Bradford and Taylor Counties – along with the City of Perry – have pulled out of the NFBA. And, what happens when the federal grant money runs out? What if the fees customers pay for NFBA’s Internet service aren’t enough to cover its operational costs?
It will be the citizens of Levy and other counties who are left footing the bill.
While the goal to provide online access to Floridians is a necessary one, the current trend to create risky GONs is the wrong way to go about it. Our efforts should be focused on attracting private companies to provide this important service while also creating jobs and revenue for our local communities. And, let’s save the taxpayer dollars for funding essential community services such as police, firefighters and teachers.