To Dig or Not to Dig – That is my question

Guest Columnist

I am writing this article about the town’s plan to spend millions of dollars to bury a fiber cable conduit along every street on Longboat Key. Recent developments in the wireless industry, including 5G and recently acquired information about existing and available fiber capacity on the island, have lead me to the point of wanting the town to pause and look at options before proceeding with a project that may not be needed, and still achieve all the modern communications goals envisioned by the town and the town commission.

What has come to light is that Frontier Communications has thousands of strands of fiber optic cable they recently acquired from Verizon. Years ago, when I was fighting for a Municipal Digital Fiber Optic Infrastructure on Longboat, as a means of attracting the two cell phone providers to improve cellular service on the island, I attempted to talk to Verizon about using their FIOS fiber. They were not receptive. That was then. Now we are at the dawn of 5G and Frontier is in the business of supplying wholesale fiber services to the business community and to government agencies.

Longboat now has two available options to achieve their communications goals. The town may be able to lease all the fiber capacity needed from Frontier, or embark on a multi-million dollar project to create a second fiber network covering the entire island. Frontier has a fiber cable running to every residence on the island in what is called a point-to-point architecture. This translates to thousands of fiber runs up and down the island.

Does a small affluent seasonal community, of mostly retirees, require two super high capacity fiber optic networks? I hope the town explores this and other questions, now that we know that Frontier has a Wholesale division catering to the business and government entities.

I believe the major rational for spending millions on a town fiber network is to attract digital service providers to come to our community – if we build a fiber network they will come. In fact this may not be the case. Any cellular and digital information provider already knows that Frontier is in the business of leasing fiber capacity to businesses and governments, yet they are not here. Doubling the fiber capacity on our island may be over-kill and a glut of fiber that goes unused.

Since the population of the island is fixed, and recent referendums connote that this will not change any time soon, there is virtually no room for expansion of demand. Add to that, Frontier is in the business of doing business, they might prove to be a daunting competitor if the town goes ahead with a possibly unneeded fiber network in hopes of offering fiber capacity to commercial interests, when more than enough capacity likely already exists.

Talking to Susan Higgins at Frontier Wholesale Services, started me wondering why the cellular carriers have not improved service appreciably on the island in a decade. One of her observations is that business investment seeks the highest return. Longboat, with its predominately seasonal fixed residential demographic just doesn’t offer much incentive for any communications company to invest in new equipment. Prospects for 5G may be dodgy for the next few years as providers struggle for market share in high density markets.

Should the town move forward with its buried fiber network project before thoroughly investigating all options? I think this would preclude the town arriving at any informed decision. We’re talking million of tax dollars.

Finally these words from Susan Higgins at Frontier Wholesale Services. I think they beg the questions – is a second fiber network necessary on Longboat and is there a way to achieve the town’s data goals using Frontier leased fiber?

From Susan Higgins:

Gene … I can appreciate your concerns. Unfortunately, since Frontier already has fiber in the area, it would be up to the local government to lease that fiber if they did not want to build out their own network. Generally speaking, wireless carriers go where customers are and if there isn’t a big wireless network using community on your island, I can’t imagine any wireless carrier pushing to expand their presence. They go where the customers and demand are.  But, I can’t speak to that strategic planning and can only guess.

We are happy to work with Tom to discuss alternative leasing options from Frontier if they want to pursue that.  And if they do, they would work with one of our government account executives who has experts to assist with the project.

Susan Higgins  Sr. Staff, Frontier Business & Wholesale Marketing

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Longboat Key News

2 Responses for “To Dig or Not to Dig – That is my question”

  1. Jim Gardner says:

    Gene’s point is well made. Let’s see what the Town does.

  2. Gene Jaleski says:

    I have been active in improving communications on Longboat Key for a decade. However, I believe we are the “oldest” small town in America, next to Sarasota, the “oldest” small city. We have a mandated maximum population density and a shrinking on-island man-day quotient. I believe we need to seek the lowest cost (e.g. most attractive) solution for improving cellular service on the island. Needlessly increasing household bond indebtedness may not be the optimal solution. if Frontier can supply fiber at a cost below what the yearly debt service would be on a five million dollar bond for town owned underground fiber.

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