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Polk County officials working to expand broadband internet accessibility to all residents

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Posted at 6:53 PM, Jun 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-15 18:53:58-04

POLK COUNTY, Fla.  — Internet access has become even more important in the wake of the pandemic.

The Librarian Supervisor at the eLibrary in South Lakeland said when they reopened after the shutdown, they saw more people coming to use the library's broadband internet.

“There were some elementary and middle school students that were taking advantage here of the services,” said Vick Nunez.

Despite the need for internet access to do everyday activities, many Polk County families are still without adequate internet access, particularly in rural areas where the infrastructure isn’t there.

"The resources needed to put the fiber in the ground to have that internet access is what we’re missing right now,” said Marybeth Soderstrom, Co-Chair of Smart Community’s LEAD Team within Polk Vision.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, between 2014 and 2018, 65% to 75% of Polk County households have a broadband internet subscription.

While Hillsborough County, sees the highest rate available, with more than 85% of households with broadband.

“Individuals who have access and are able to utilize high-speed internet access have an advantage, so if it’s educational or work from home opportunities or even job search,” said Soderstrom.

The digital divide is an issue the City of Lakeland is working to address. The city has 330 miles of fiber that’s been installed over time.

“We’re looking at a way to leverage that asset with another company that can come in and provide high-speed internet to our citizens. So, we’ve been in communication with Summit Broadband out of Orlando. We're eagerly awaiting their proposal,” said Kevin Cook, Director of Communications for the City of Lakeland.

The City hopes by July they can bring a proposal before the commission for a vote.