Summit: Unforeseen competition, broadband rollout delayed by regulation

The company is partnering with the city of Lakeland to expand broadband options to local homes and businesses, says unforeseen competition and tougher-than-expected city regulations have delayed its plans to deliver service to residences.

That was the word today from City Commissioner Stephanie Madden, who said she spoke Thursday night with Kevin Coyne, president of Summit Broadband of Orlando, the company that was selected through a competitive process and won a contract last July to build new services from the city’s 330 miles of dark fiber.

Madden gave an update this morning to the other three commissioners attending an agenda review workshop. The update came after LkldNow reported on Wednesday that Summit had shifted its residential rollout plans away from single-family homes in favor of contracting with homeowner groups.

This article quoted a Summit spokeswoman saying, Summit Broadband has worked diligently to launch services in the town of Lakeland. Although service to single-family homes is not currently available, we currently offer service to businesses and multi-family communities. In fact, we are excited to already serve over a dozen local businesses in addition to becoming an internet service provider for the Surf Lakeland project.

Last February, Coyne told city commissioners the company would serve 5,000 residents in neighborhoods between downtown and Edgewood Drive by June.

Summit’s frustrations involve both competitor Frontier Communications and unforeseen city regulations, Madden said:

  • Summit revealed the neighborhoods it would serve first in public meetings, so Frontier focused its efforts on installing fiber optics in the same areas.
  • Because Frontier’s digging had breached electrical, water, and sewer lines, the city tightened its regulations. This, Coyne said in a letter to Madden, “significantly increased our construction costs and construction time.”

Coyne cited several details in his letter to Madden. In his words:

  • No annoying missile in city limits increases the cost of placement per foot on about 50% of the construction.
  • Soft digs designed to expose existing city infrastructure $2,000 per dig. If not located, you should hire a survey company to perform utility locates.
  • The city is holding work orders for construction…feeding us 2-3 work orders at a time.
  • No additional permits issued to build until work order is fully restored and inspected.
  • Once the 4K feet are built, restoration must take place.
  • Only works on 2 streets at a time
  • All crews will wear erosion control and runoff mitigation at all times.
  • No work on Friday

City Manager Shawn Sherrouse said he was surprised Coyne didn’t speak to him about those concerns and said city permitting staff had a good working relationship with local Summit officials.

At the same time, he told commissioners he wanted to allay concerns raised by Facebook commenters about whether Summit was fulfilling its contractual obligations with the city.

“The city is ensuring Summit remains compliant with the agreement we have in place and … they’ve met their financial obligations,” he said. These include annual payments to the city of $144,000 initially with a revenue share later, and an investment of $20 million over the next five years.

Commissioner Chad McLeod, who chaired this morning’s meeting in the absence of Mayor Bill Mutz and Mayor Pro Tem Sara Roberts McCarley, suggested that Sherrouse meet with Coyne about Summit’s concerns and report back to the commission.

Madden said Coyne told him he was hoping to partner with another company to work cooperatively to bring fiber to neighborhoods faster. This could imply that a telecommunications company needs more optical fiber in conjunction with 5G wireless networks, she speculated.

“They are researching and scrambling to find ways to reduce their home building costs now, as the costs are rising and making it harder for them to get a return on their investment,” she said.

Madden wondered aloud if there was a way to streamline the permitting process for Summit while acknowledging that the city was prohibited from showing favoritism to any of its vendors.

She said she understands both Summit’s frustrations and the need for city staff to enforce rules that ensure the neighborhood’s safety and integrity: “There’s no bad guy in this story. It is simply these factors that explain why it may be more difficult now than we anticipated to connect residents to the fiber solution.

However, commissioner Mike Musick, the only commissioner who voted against awarding Summit a 20-year contract, said he disagreed with Madden: “I think they’re looking for a scapegoat and I think they are using the city and the regulations as the reason for it.

Ryan Lazenby, the city’s civil engineering manager, told commissioners he previewed permit requirements with Summit staff before any permit applications were filed. He said it wasn’t until earlier this week that he heard Summit had concerns.

Lazenby responded to Coyne’s concerns about permits and regulations, saying:

  • Summit submitted a “landslide” of requests to dig and place conduit on 116.5 miles of right-of-way. Employees spend their entire working days on these demands; they asked for more information on some of the applications, but approved six miles of work involving 60 miles of conduit.
  • Summit was told early on that building permits would be approved in stages based on their ability to restore the right-of-way that had been dug, “and they said they were okay with that.” He reminded commissioners that they get phone calls from residents when contractors don’t clean up after digging in their yards.
  • Summit’s construction manager asked city officials to meet with his subcontractors. When a city inspector came back a few days ago, the construction manager said, in Lazenby’s words, “Hey, we might not even work in the city anymore; your building requirements are too onerous. This, he said, “took us by surprise.”
  • The air hammers Coyne refers to are difficult to control and often cause unintended damage. The city has not permitted their use for 30 years, although they are permitted in some more rural areas, including unincorporated Polk County. Frontier has used the pneumatic devices in some of its digging jobs, which resulted in ruptures in sewer lines that entered homes and required the company to replace flooring, Lazenby said.
  • The utility digs Coyne refers to relate to state-required “sunshine 811” underground utility checks. “What we asked them to do is when they go through the utility and we asked them to determine the depth of that so you don’t go through it. And they tell us that’s unreasonable. We have done this for years. We do it for everyone. It’s not a top thing. Their competitors do.

A local IT manager emailed LkldNow saying Summit should be commended for its willingness to invest in infrastructure in Lakeland when incumbent providers Spectrum Internet and Frontier refused to do so until the arrival of Summit.

“Now that we finally have a company that is willing to invest in our infrastructure, all of a sudden we see both of these companies are willing to spend money now that they have competition at the expense of this company,” said writes Nick Nicholas, Chief Financial Officer. and administration at DSM Technology, a Lakeland data infrastructure company. “We should be grateful that this company chose to take the business risk that made these companies believe our community was worth their investment.”

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