SEBRING – Finished at the end of 2013, Heartland’s new broadband network has come online to provide service to public agencies, schools and rural markets across Florida and Highlands County.
To manage and operate the approximately 250,000 residents in the network region, an agreement was reached May 2 with Affiniti, an Austin, Texas-based broadband communications and network service provider, with an office in Sebring.
The company will also provide capital investment as it operates over 50,000 square miles in 21 states.
Florida’s Heartland Regional Economic Development Initiative Inc. (FHREDI) reached the agreement between the Florida Rural Broadband Alliance (FRBA) and Affiniti.
FHREDI is a regional economic development organization representing Desoto, Glades, Hendry, Highlands, and Okeechobee counties, the cities of Belle Glade, Pahokee and South Bay and the community of Immokalee.
FRBA is a limited-liability company formed in March 2010 between two non-profit economic development corporations -- FHREDI in south central Florida and Opportunity Florida in northwest Florida.
A total of $34 million -- $24 million in federal grants and $10 million from public- and private-sector contributions -- has been invested in these two regions through an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Broadband Technology Opportunity Program grant.
Its function is to provide broadband coverage to unserved or under-served areas of the two regions and to create a local network to bring broadband capacity.
The hope is to bridge the digital divide between rural and more urban areas and “bring super high-speed Internet capabilities to advance education, healthcare, economic development, safety and security among other key areas,” said Gina Reynolds, CEO of FHREDI.
Reynolds hopes it will create new jobs and a higher quality of life. Broadband, she said, is an “essential” utility for economic development and a “higher quality of life.”
“The agreement provides us a partner that brings not only network operations expertise, but a partner who has a long history of delivering broadband services to rural and under-served markets,’ said Reynolds, who’s also Co-Manager of FRBA. “We are now able to strengthen and expand the network, which will be used as a catalyst for job creation.”
FHREDI and Opportunity Florida formed the FBRA in 2010 to apply for an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus package and FRBA won a $23.6 million grant. Since then, the goal has been to sign on a network operator.
David Jolly, vice-president of marketing for Affiniti, said his company came on board as operator April 1. “When the opportunity came up, we saw this as a natural fit for us -- to deliver advanced telecommunications servers to rural communities across the U.S.,” he said. “This is a good partnership when we can use our expertise to serve the rural and under-served of the FRBA region.”
The physical FRBA network starts with fiber cable in Okeechobee, but broadband is broadcast with microwave towers constructed in seven rings - the same sort of wide circles used to distribute electricity. That provides redundancy, so that if one tower in the circle goes down, the signal flow is reversed and the network continues to operate.