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City commission sets proposed districts, moves forward on broadband

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

At their March 3 meeting, the Gainesville City Commission voted to approve preliminary redistricting maps and decided to ask consultants to move forward with preparing a business plan for a pilot program to provide broadband internet for some part of east Gainesville.

New city commission districts

The commission heard a presentation from a consultant about new city commission districts, which are required to be set every 10 years, after the census. In the existing maps, District 1 is what is known as a “minority-majority” district; there are two such districts (1 and 3) in the proposed new maps. Mayor Lauren Poe described a “massive demographic shift” in the current District 3, “and as we have historically made sure that District 1 is able to elect a representative of their choosing, I think District 3 has gotten to that point as well, where they need to also be able to have a voice that represents their specific interest.” The new District 3’s minority population is equally split between black and Hispanic voters. The consultants had recommended a different option, but the commission liked having two minority-majority districts.

The final maps depend on the maps adopted by the legislature and where the resulting precinct lines fall. The commission voted unanimously to approve “Option 3” (shown above – none of the maps showed the numbers for the districts).

Broadband

Following a presentation from a consultant on a municipal broadband project to “ensure high-speed fiber internet services were available to all residents and businesses at an affordable price throughout the community,” Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos proposed moving forward on providing fiber connections and internet connectivity to residences in District 1. Commissioner Harvey Ward disagreed, saying he would prefer moving some of the $9.6 million in American Rescue Plan (ARPA) funds that the commission has set aside for broadband to housing. Ward said they could provide wireless connectivity to a substantial number of people for about $3 million instead of running fiber to residences. 

Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut also favored concentrating on housing instead of focusing on broadband, which “is not our area of expertise.” Poe cautioned her that this meeting was about  broadband, not ARPA funding: “If we’re going to be making decisions about where we put our ARPA funding, I want that discussion to be something that we notice [to the public].”

Commissioner Reina Saco said that even homeless people need internet; it’s “sort of like food and water at this point.”

Hayes-Santos said that providing wireless internet alone has many issues and that “fiber is the future.” He made a motion to ask the consultants to work on the business plan for a priority area as a pilot, with a future option to expand it city-wide, using mainly ARPA funds (limited to $9.6 million) and also create a wireless network in the priority area. 

Ward said he wasn’t prepared to use $9.6 million of ARPA money on the broadband project. Chestnut also said she didn’t support the motion. Commissioner David Arreola said he wasn’t making a final decision but wanted to see the business plan. 

GRU Interim General Manager Tony Cunningham asked Hayes-Santos to add a step where GRU has the opportunity to evaluate the business plan before it goes back to the commission, and Hayes-Santos agreed. 

During public comment on the motion, Aimee Pfannenstiel from Cox said that every unit in the Gainesville Housing Authority is connected to Cox’s network. They have free plans for certain families, and they have $30/month rates. She said the City could help find out what is preventing the residents from having access, whether it’s a computer, knowledge of the available plans, or knowledge of how to connect it. She said that with their wired network already there, the City could provide wireless service for years with $9.6 million, “and you could do it tomorrow. So let’s get creative.” 

The motion passed 5-2, with Chestnut and Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker in dissent.

  • Wasting money the city commission’s top priority. Building something already in place, smacks of self dealing or buddy deals. Internet $10 a month for school age kid in home already there. Could verify income and pay for low income only accounts TOMORROW without building anything, a few million would go a long way. Gov internet has worked in about 2 of 1,000 places tried, and those only in unique situations like the mountainous terrain in Chattanooga with city putting it in when they rewired for all new city electricity meters at a large cost to electricity customers, yet it still costs more than its competitors. Wasting other people’s money nothing new to these jobless commissioners who are all failures in business and life with no actual skills doing anything else professionally. $10 million here and there wasted, GRU stretched to bankruptcy, zoning and housing in shambles, equity programs and efforts failed to move the needle on one of the top 10 most racially divided cities in the US! East is black and west is white, same for where those commissioners live. Nothing will change until people with actual proven experience in business for 20+ years each get elected. NONE of these failures have even 1 year.

  • Christine you are spot on! We have a small fraction of eligible voters who vote, but most importantly, only the Alachua Chronicle reports the absurdity of the city/county/school board meetings. What actually goes on behind the scenes is almost never reported on by the Sun or Channel 20, then the populace is blindsided by their reckless ill informed decisions. Multi year business acumen should be first priority in elections

    • If media won’t report, need to go to the street with handouts and signs and inform the public about these embarrassing failures.

  • The King hyPOcrite said, “and as we have historically made sure that District 1 is able to elect a representative of their choosing, I think District 3 has gotten to that point as well, where they need to also be able to have a voice that represents their specific interest.” ~ yet he vehemently opposes single member voting districts.

    The consultants had recommended a different option, but the commission liked having two minority-majority districts. ~ of course they did. They recognize, (isn’t that an aberration), that the minority districts are the more easily influenced by their brainwashing and more likely to appreciate being in bondage to commissioners. Of special note – they once again ignored the recommendation of experts.

    Harvey Two Face once again shows how out of touch with reality he is. He didn’t even know that Cox runs to east Gainesville. ~ Keep voting for that ignorant idiot.

    Wacko Saco said that even homeless people need internet; it’s “sort of like food and water at this point.” ~ try telling that to the 4 & 5 year olds who don’t have food because their parents can’t afford their utility bills. She thinks it’s more important to give free internet to vagabonds than affordable utility rates to taxpayers.

    See where this is going? Time to wake up Gainesville. Stop being indentured to these people who falsely claim to represent you.

  • Amen to both Christine and DanG. Housing is a much greater need, but only if they could do that right, too. I’d only add there may be good reason why some residents don’t want gov’t internet: propaganda ads, and spying on innocent political activists, the planting of fake “evidence” on their devices to arrest them without bail. Should District 1 voters dare to flip Red, like future District 3 voters are doing. Then there’s the illegal drug and human/stolen retail trafficking dealers, who don’t want gumment internet either. Two sides to every coin.

    • Jeff. Free public housing is not the answer. Personal responsibility is…don’t breed em if you can’t educate &
      Feed em. Parents need to pay a user fee for their kids
      In public school too. No more free lunch.

      • Nobody said free housing here. Owner occupied instead of subsidized rentals will teach the underclass about personal finance and private property merits (instead of personal excuses and govt dependency like now).

    • Good point on gov internet there jeffcoat! Most don’t know that your Internet Service Provider (ISP) has a record of every website you ever visited. Anyone want minority imposter A Hayes S-wad and Harvey printing and carrying around their internet history? Didn’t think so. No need to get search warrants, those two will peruse them for free!

  • Why is Cox so afraid of this? GRU has miles and miles of fiber already, connecting all electric substations, hospitals, every public school, cell towers, The UF East Gainesville Campus, many apartment complexes, and much more. If you could get any business sense into the City Commissioners heads, they would already dominate Cox. As it is….. Cox seems to be afraid of awakening a sleeping giant. Maybe that giant is in a coma or brain dead? Other cities have been successful with broadband. Just as other cities have successful Municipal electric and water utilities. It’s not the concept that’s flawed, it is the idiots trying to implement it that are the problem. The failures nationally are overstated and privacy laws still apply- those are red herrings. You don’t need to exaggerate the potential problems. No need to lie about stuff to make your point because the Gainesville City Commission is so inept, it won’t ever work.

    • BG, Will agree with you on the inept ignorants at city hall but you’ve missed a lot elsewhere. Offering broadband or fiber not “just as”others have muni water and electricity. 99% of the latter are without competition! Can you get electricity from someone other than GRU? NO! If you peel back the layers you’ll find very few muni broadbands or fiber that are better, faster or cheaper than what is already available in the marketplace. And, you can find thousands of muni failures, several right in the central FL area. Take a read through of the contractors proposal to Gainesville and you’ll see it is something almost no city in FL would execute. Many minefields and potential for no final product after millions are spent. GRU Gator Net came from laying cable when already doing work for GRU and requires the entire neighborhood or apartment complex to sign up at once, so it’s built into the rent, not free. If that is the solution they don’t need to buy anything. Muni broadbands are proven failures over and over and not frequently pursued any more. The gov (citizens) always left holding the bag after the millions spent on construction and the operator eventually declines further contracts. Google fiber coming across the nation at warp speed and will be anything else out there.

      • There are fewer than 300 Community Broadband Fiber to the Premise projects in the United States and the majority (about 60%) are cash positive within 5 years. That’s a lot better than the 1 in 1000 you falsely claim. Or your other deceitful statement about thousands of Florida projects…. Just untrue.
        Longmont Colorado has almost a 60% take rate on their Muni Broadband and Comcast has lower prices there. The Comcast service is so bad, people pay more to get the NextLight Service. Bristol Tennessee is so successful, neighboring cities have begged them to expand. There are plenty of other examples of successful Muni Broadband deployments.
        I agree, I would not hand GRU / City of Gainesville a mandate to spend a bunch of money on expanding GatorNet. (GatorNet is in fact a fantastic service where available) But only because of the gross incompetence of the City. You weaken your position by telling lies and severely exaggerating things. It allows the City to point at the opposition and say, “See, they are unhinged liars! Don’t listen to them!”
        Don’t weaken your position with untrue statements, it plays into the opposition. Or is that your ploy? Which side do you work on?

        • Given the recent history of incompetence in Gainesville city government, we have to assume this project will be one of the 40% that are not cash positive. So will that deficit be tacked onto GRU bills, too?

        • Please read, I never said thousands of Fl projects, I said “several, right in the central Fl area”, like NF broadband, bought with stimulus funds and a disaster, and another, Fl Rural BB network took $24 million before bankrupting, WV just wasted $124 m on a non-working model. And really close DUNNELLON FL borrowed $8 million to start fiber and sold the scraps for $1 million a few years later due to it hemorrhaging money, almost causing a city bankruptcy. Fact.

          https://amp.ocala.com/amp/31927866007

          https://www.columbiacountyobserver.com/master_files/Florida_News_2014/14_1010_nfba_termination-bad-feelings-broke.html

          https://www.govtech.com/network/what-went-wrong-floridas-rural-broadband-network-declares-bankruptcy.html?_amp=true

          WV
          https://mountainstatespotlight.org/2020/09/17/bankruptcy-blackouts-and-broken-promises/

          All of these happened, factual muni cases and I’m sure there are a thousand or so in the US in the last 20 years.

          I’ll grant you that yes, maybe a number more than I am aware of are working. But you should acknowledge they are full of risk and there have been many bankruptcies. We can agree this city commission can’t be trusted with this type of project. My opinion is that other providers may have been steered away because of city regulation, permits and city noise about doing their own. Im done on this one.

        • Note: had to make the links to all 4 referenced articles non-working because it wouldn’t post. Put https on the front of all 4.

          Please read, I never said thousands of Fl projects, I said “several, right in the central Fl area”, like NF broadband, bought with stimulus funds and a disaster, and another, Fl Rural BB network took $24 million before bankrupting, WV just wasted $124 m on a non-working model. And really close DUNNELLON FL borrowed $8 million to start fiber and sold the scraps for $1 million a few years later due to it hemorrhaging money, almost causing a city bankruptcy. Fact.

          ://amp.ocala.com/amp/31927866007

          ://www.columbiacountyobserver.com/master_files/Florida_News_2014/14_1010_nfba_termination-bad-feelings-broke.html

          ://www.govtech.com/network/what-went-wrong-floridas-rural-broadband-network-declares-bankruptcy.html?_amp=true

          WV
          ://mountainstatespotlight.org/2020/09/17/bankruptcy-blackouts-and-broken-promises/

          All of these happened, factual muni cases and I’m sure there are a thousand or so in the US in the last 20 years.

          I’ll grant you that yes, maybe a number more than I am aware of are working. But you should acknowledge they are full of risk and there have been many bankruptcies. We can agree this city commission can’t be trusted with this type of project. My opinion is that other providers may have been steered away because of city regulation, permits and city noise about doing their own. Im done on this one.

        • You obviously have something in it for yourself, possibly working for the contractor with the awful proposal (for citizens, not them). Gainesville commission too inexperienced to not have rejected it out of hand. The whole idea sucks bad. You don’t need the government to provide internet! They can’t do it faster, cheaper, or better in 99% of cases that aren’t rural, even then satellite works fine. The figures you cite of 60% being cash pos 5yrs out merely means they have 1 penny of profit in year 5 after massive investments in the tens of millions, much of it off-book because other parts of the government provide labor, overhead, facilities etc. like in the case you cited in Bristol Tn where the electric part ate 40% of the cost. So really all electric rate payers are involuntarily paying for this without their agreement to do so. Only in rare cases does this make sense for the gov to do, like in rural area where user fees would never be enough to build out the last mile of the network. It’s those rural folks near Bristol that are “begging” to get connected as you stated, but only because TN law has always prohibited muni electricity ( no private electricity is allowed in TN!) from selling any services outside the area they cover with electricity and they are all rural spread out customers. The exact same for Chattanooga who used years of the power boards labor with very little payback. For those few cases where it makes sense, almost all are for rural customers and Gainesville FL AIN’T one of them. The idea of gov internet in Gainesville should be rejected soundly out of hand. GRU is nearly bankrupt as it is will mountains of debt. TN, on the other hand does not allow 1 penny of transfer to the general gov from any utility and all electricity is gov owned. Not even close to the Gainesville fiasco!

    • GRU can’t dominate anthying exceept the Highest Electic Rates in Florida and illogical financial decisions. Have you looked at your Google reviews? If all the Public Schools had Clay Electric Power instead og GRU the County would save millions. ( Wheres the inept ACG on this ?) How can anyone be proud of and defend GRU and the COG leadership? It is just another classic example of denial of their selfinflicted failures. I fear an entitity with a 25% debt burnden budget is spiraling down the drain debt they cannot oovercome enven charging obscene rates.

  • The “fiber” is fiber optic cabling. Of course the city commission thinks it’s magical and won’t need maintenance and is cheap to repair. Once the federal dollars are all spent, guess who will have to pay to maintain this magic cable? Not the city commissioners.

    • Well, the City Commissioners are half right…. The fiber, once installed is remarkably durable and easy to maintain / repair. It is darn near magical, although some minimal maintenance is of course needed. What is NOT cheap, easy to maintain or easy to predict the future costs is the electronics that go on either end of the fiber. The servers, and other computing capability that drives the data across the network is constantly changing and advancing. That part is volatile and potentially expensive in the future.

  • They should just go to the library and get their free
    Internet there.

  • Unless it is going to be free for everyone, they will need to hire extra customer service agents. Hayes-Santos-Simpleton would say “You already have GRU customer service to handle those calls.” Yeah, but the volume of calls will increase, and more staff will be needed. I’m sure some additional techs will be needed, and other expenses. Heck, they’ll probably need an additional equity manager to make sure everything is equitable with the broadband. Hopefully Chestnut will derail it somehow.

    • Agree Peabody. There is no doubt the C of G will make a disaster out of anything they do. This will be just another vehicle for government programs and layers of people and waste. I would not put it past them to start government day care at drop off facilities claiming with their internet there is plenty of content available to teach with, all from Joe Biden’s misguided administration. Giving these people one inch of space or one dollar of spending money more is a grandiose mistake. Any internet solution should not come from anything city hall has to do with.

  • GRU is massively in debt! The city commission’s solution is take on more debt offering broadband! spend spend spend is all these commissioners think about!

    • They seem to have a real problem with seeing the possible downsides of their decisions. It happens over and over again. “Worst case scenario” is not in their dictionary.

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