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GRU Improving Internet Speeds, But Reach Remains Concern

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Gainesville Regional Utilities’ internet service is being upgraded to provide faster upload speeds and continued unlimited data usage for customers specifically in apartment and condo complexes — but the broader issue of expanding into homes remains an issue in the city.

Gator Net’s boost to upload speeds will make it the first internet provider in Gainesville to offer “symmetrical service,” which refers to equal upload and download speeds, said Wayne Wishart, business director of GRUCom, which oversees Gator Net as well as GRU’s internet service to businesses.

“This really distinguishes us from the other service providers in town that are technologically limited and aren’t able to provide that class of service,” he told WUFT News this week. “It’s sort of a unique aspect of our internet.”

Even before the upgrades, Gator Net’s speed was the fastest residential internet in Gainesville, Wishart said, and it’s the only provider to offer internet service via completely fiber-optic cable, which is considered a better quality than copper.

No customers’ rates will increase directly because the overall bill is paid for by management at the roughly 50 apartment and condo complexes under Gator Net, Wishart said. Most of the complexes had already been upgraded by Thursday, while the remaining ones will be wrapped up over the next two to three weeks.

Such advancements are what Bryan Eastman  co-founder of Connected Gainesville, which isn’t affiliated with GRU wants available to all Alachua County residents, not just some in Gainesville.

“[Faster internet] is a great start, but we really need to make sure everyone can afford this and that it’s accessible to everyone,” Eastman said.

Connected Gainesville, an activist group that seeks to bring affordable and dependable broadband throughout the county, launched Jan. 31 as a response to residents’ grievances about expensive and unreliable internet.

Adrian Hayes-Santos, a Gainesville city commissioner and supporter of the Connected Gainesville initiative, said he is aware of the struggle residents face.

For those it reaches, GRUCom’s internet is a standard for quality internet service, he said, but many don’t have access to it.

“We have the highest prices in the state, and I’m tired, and I know Gainesville residents are tired,” Hayes-Santos said. “I get emails and calls every day asking what can we do.”

Wishart said expanding beyond businesses and multi-family complexes and to neighborhoods isn’t currently part of GRUCom’s business model because it is a “difficult business case to make based upon risk assessment.”

Expanding to residential areas is risky, he said, because GRUCom would have to pay to build the costly infrastructure necessary to provide fiber-optic service without a guarantee that people will switch to its services.

Apartment complexes and businesses, on the other hand, sign contracts before GRUCom builds the infrastructure, ensuring a return on investment, Wishart said.

Additionally, Florida law prohibits a municipal utility, such as GRU, from making such a risky investment because it uses taxpayers’ money.

GRUCom could expand its services throughout Gainesville, but it would require pushing the company in that direction through policy and a vote from the City Commission, said Eastman, of Connected Gainesville.

Connected Gainesville plans to investigate ways for such an expansion in the coming months, Eastman said. Similar efforts have been successful in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Lafayette, Louisiana. However, “that may not work for our community,” he added.

For right now, GRUCom’s focus is only on businesses and student housing, Wishart said, but it expects to coordinate with Connected Gainesville in the future.

“The conversation with Connected Gainesville is really early, and we will be engaged in that conversation,” he said. “What that outcome looks like, I can’t speculate on.”

About Jordan McCool

Jordan is a reporter for WUFT News who may be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news @wuft.org

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