$24 million broadband expansion nearly done

Published: Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at 10:54 AM.

PANAMA CITY — Rural Northwest Florida soon will be home to a broadband network capable of handling 1,000 times the capacity of existing Internet service in the area.

Funded by the 2009 federal stimulus package, the $24 million project will bring broadband Internet access to eight underserved counties in the Panhandle, including Calhoun, Gulf, Franklin, Holmes, Jackson, Washington, Liberty and Gadsden counties. Slated for an end-of-the-year completion, the project also will provide coverage for the south-central Florida counties of DeSoto, Hardee, Glades, Hendry, Highlands and Okeechobee and the community of Immokalee.

Known as the Florida Rural Broadband Alliance (FRBA), the initiative is a partnership between Opportunity Florida and the Florida Rural Heartland Economic Development Initiative, agencies that serve areas of critical economic concern in the state. 

Jim Brook, executive director of Opportunity Florida representing the rural Panhandle, said one of the main goals is to provide cost-effective, high-speed Internet directly to “community anchor institutions,” such as public schools, libraries, local governments and emergency services.

“It will provide additional capacity, at hopefully affordable rates,” Brook said.

According to data from the FRBA, only 39 percent of these rural areas have access to broadband service, yet they represent about 20 percent of Florida’s land mass.

The “middle mile” broadband network will extend the current Internet backbone to local Internet service providers (ISPs) that serve households and small businesses in these communities. Brook said the back-haul network is required to meet capacity requirements of up to 200 megabytes per second.

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