Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) has been deploying fiber in the north-central Florida home to the University of Florida (UF) since the late 1990s. We briefly mentioned them last year when Gig.U teamed up with GRUCom, GRU’s telecom division, to connect neighborhoods and businesses surrounding the University with fiber broadband. We’ve since taken a deeper look at GRUCom’s work and like what we see.
GRUCom was born after the FCC reclaimed the spectrum GRU used for microwave control of its SCADA systems. GRU naturally switched to fiber, and in the process of running lines for its utilities, it ran into crews doing the same for Shands Hospital, part of the University. Realizing the substantial demand for fiber broadband across the county, GRU created GRUCom to serve that demand more efficiently.
GRUCom Director, Ted Kellerman, points out that, as an enterprise division of GRU, GRUCom has a mandate to generate profit. This essentially means that the network only expands on a business case basis, so prices can vary across customers depending on connection costs. Despite this constraint, GRUCom manages to provide reliable high-speed data services at reasonable prices.
GRUCom connects 100 public facilities including government, fire department, utilities and Alachua County Schools and Libraries. All facilities are on redundant fiber rings with route diversity and 10-Gbps capacity. Seven locations receive 1 Gbps service while the rest take either 10 or 100 Mbps. The average cost for 10 Mbps connections is $400 and $900 for the 100-Mbps links.
While GRUCom doesn’t serve residential customers directly (with a few exceptions), it does offer bulk Internet access to apartment complexes where many students live. As Mr. Kellerman explained it, GRUCom strives to fill growing demand for high-speed broadband from students who come to Gainesville, a Tier 2 market , from homes in Tier 1 markets where high-speed options are more readily available. GRUCom’s response is GATORNET, a 50 Mbps Internet access package that retails for $29.95 per month. This beats most Tier 1 market prices for comparable services, many of which advertise “up to 50 Mbps” over crowded cable networks but deliver only a fraction of that speed most of the time.
GRUCom brings another key benefit of community networks to Gainesville - local control accommodating local needs. When the music streaming service Grooveshark, started by two UF students, took off, its need for bandwidth exploded. Director Ted Kellerman recalls having regular discussions with Grooveshark’s founders during those times and making arrangements to get them the bandwidth they needed without breaking their startup budget. That’s what a community network is all about - meeting local needs.