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Sunday, September 25, 2022

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Winter Haven EDC Embraces Creating Community Connections with Broadband

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While a typical view of infrastructure may include electricity and water lines, broadband internet access has now become a critical component of the infrastructure we need for today and in the future.

Before we go into details about how Winter Haven has progressed with this new way of connectivity, here are a few key definitions (for those of us who need to get up to speed on the terminology!).

-Broadband – high-speed internet access that is always on and faster than dial-up access
-Fiber optic technology – technology that transmits at much faster speeds than other methods; data is converted to light and travels through small transparent glass fibers, slightly thicker than a human hair
-Dark fiber – unused excess fiber optic strands
-Gigabit – a unit of information capacity equal to one billion bits.
The vision for Winter Haven’s broadband initiative started 13 years ago. Here are some key dates in the timeline for Winter Haven and Polk County:

2003: City of Winter Haven staff created the Information Technology Strategic Plan to serve as a roadmap for technology investment.

2004: The City’s “dig once” incremental approach to installing underground fiber optic conduit began with a project in the downtown area. Since that time, 20 miles of conduit have been installed; 15 of those currently have fiber.

2012: Polk Vision and the Central Florida Regional Planning Council (CFRPC) facilitated a collaborative effort involving Polk County citizens, business leaders, educational institutions, economic development professionals, and many others. This group created the Polk County Broadband Plan and helped bring community awareness to the importance of broadband and its impact on education, government services, public safety, economic development and quality of life for our community.

2014: The Winter Haven Broadband Study recommended that the City of Winter Haven adopt an open-access dark fiber community broadband business model, enabling the City to lease its fiber network to telecommunication service providers.

2015: The Winter Haven City Commission approved the first dark fiber agreement with NAP of Central Florida, a local service provider, to lease excess City-owned fiber optic strands. With each agreement approved, 5 percent of the contract (with a 5 percent provider match) goes to a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Innovation Fund, designed to encourage students to create business ideas. We’ll share more on this program in a future post.

2016: The Winter Haven Public Library became the only gigabit library in the state. This milestone is significant from not only a technological standpoint, but also its relevance to encouraging involvement and engagement by our community. The gigabit internet connection at the library will play a valuable role in increasing digital literacy and supporting library programs for the community.

Because of these additions to Winter Haven’s fiber optic infrastructure, downtown is poised as the location of greater opportunity for tech advancement in the area.

You may be wondering how much of a difference it makes to use fiber to transmit information. The organizations using Winter Haven’s fiber use electronics that send and receive 10 gigabits of information. Using 10-gigabit speed, you would be able to transmit a two-hour, high-definition movie in just eight seconds!

What is our hope for the future? Build on the progress that has already been made, and continue defining broadband needs and determining how to meet those needs. A collaborative public/private effort will help identify the best ways to expand the current network and close the connectivity loop.

Affordable high speed internet for more businesses, organizations, and residents is a lofty goal, but there are many people who share the same vision about making connections, encouraging creativity, and transforming our community.

While some may focus on the technology aspect of high speed internet access, Hiep Nguyen, Chief Information Officer for the City of Winter Haven looks at it a different way.

Hiep says, “Don’t think about the glass of the fiber, think about what’s going through the glass – someone’s homework, creative ideas, medical breakthroughs.” We like that image and look forward to seeing what’s next.

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