A multimillion-dollar high-speed Internet project will be implemented in 10 cities in Florida; one of them is a small town in Alachua County with less than 1,000 residents.
The City of Micanopy received nearly $3 million to boost Broadband Internet Access, which is an affordable high-speed Internet option, on August 22. The funding is part of the Community Development Block Grant coronavirus program, which is overseen by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.
The program is funded by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, which has distributed $5 billion nationwide for the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. It is designed to help local governments address the negative economic impacts caused by the pandemic, including the need to improve broadband infrastructure in affected communities.
Megan Beckham, a 32-year-old Gainesville resident, lived in Micanopy and said everyone she knew had internet problems.
“If you work from home and your job depends on your internet access, this can be kind of a sketchy area for that,” she said.
Internet problems have also affected businesses as many accept credit cards as a form of payment, she said. If they lost connection to their systems, Beckham said they would just have to take cash.
Sara Owen, administrator and city clerk of Micanopy, said the pandemic has made problems with the internet more apparent. Working from home has become a challenge due to connectivity issues, she said.
The city applied 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 help with fiber-optic internet. Fiber Internet sends data through a fiber optic cable.
This method transmits data faster than traditional copper cables and the fiber is more resistant to environmental damage.
To receive the grant, eligible communities submitted an application by November 1, 2021. They could request a minimum of $200,000 and a maximum of $3 million.
Once communities have received the money, its spending must meet one of three objectives. The city or county’s program must benefit low- or middle-income residents, prevent or eliminate unhealthy or unsafe conditions, or address urgent community needs that threaten people’s well-being.
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Ginny Mance, mayor of Micanopy, said low-to-moderate income residents will receive dropouts, which connect fiber optic cables 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, DeSantis awarded $22 million to 15 Florida communities in April — Otter Creek, Astatula and Fellsmere received the money to create high-speed Internet options.
“This $22 million award 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 expected to receive money are Glen St. Mary, Springfield, Collier County, Fort White, Hillsborough County, Groveland, Lee County, Broward County, and Miami County- Dad.
Broadband issues don’t just focus on Micanopy. In Gainesville, City Commissioners Adrian Hayes-Santos and David Arreola advocated for increased 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 dissenting Hayes-Santos and Arreola.
When Hayes-Santos first ran for City Commission, one of his top priorities was to expand internet accessibility. Bryan Eastman, City Commissioner-elect of District 4, advocated for affordable internet for all. Eastman started Connected Gainesville, an organization that advocates for affordable internet in the city.
Activities that communities can spend the money on include public facilities, workforce housing, public improvements and utilities, including broadband planning that creates high-speed internet options.
Many cities and counties are using the money to improve sidewalks and roads, according to DeSantis’ press release, including Glen St. Mary, Groveland and Fort White. Springfield is using the money to rebuild a community center and Collier County will build a new senior center and library.
Broward County will use the money to provide rental assistance, while Hillsborough County will expand multi-family housing for the workforce. Lee County will expand the bed capacity of a rehabilitation center to support people struggling with mental health and addiction issues.
Finally, Miami-Dade County will provide skills training to manage affordable housing.
“We are thrilled to be one of 10 Florida communities to receive this funding,” Mance said. “Many thanks to Governor DeSantis for this community development award.”
In addition to the grant, Owen said the local government of Micanopy is looking for other resources to improve internet access. She worked with Alachua County for public funding that helps rural areas looking for better internet infrastructure, she said.
The county allocated $15 million of the $52.25 million it received from the American Rescue Plan Act to address internet issues. The money will be used to create equity in internet access and affordability for underserved communities. To achieve 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 has also created an Internet Speed Test to help users know their Internet speed. Each time a person takes the test, the software detects locations of slow internet speeds, which helps ISPs identify and help underserved communities.
The final plan will indicate the number of homes and businesses that will have better Internet access as a result of this project. It will also contain a list of the internet prices and speeds that will be offered, the number of fiber kilometers needed and the technology needed.
Contact Alexa Herrera at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @alexakherrera
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