By Nick Blank
CLAY TODAY – A Jacksonville company aims to make a move to provide fiber for thousands of people in four counties, including Clay.
Internet access and speed is no longer a luxury, IQ Fiber CEO Ted Schremp said, but a necessity. He said the internet is viewed as a utility like water and electricity.
“Working from home and doing school work from home were happening before COVID, but COVID obviously accelerated that,” he said. “Clay County is reflective of it.”
Fiber, durable tubes capable of carrying several times the amount of data as broadband, has been around for decades. Implementation has depended on population density, the cost of placing the infrastructure and efforts to block it from established internet providers.
Schremp compared what fiber does for customers to what the interstate highway system does for drivers.
“The thing with fiber is, it’s a network built for the internet,” Schremp said. “Where phone lines made DSL happen and cable made broadband happen, those aren’t symmetrical with the internet.”
Consumers lack true choice, Schremp said, with a majority of area residents having AT&T and Comcast. The fiber success story in a city like Kansas City is economics 101: the arrival of competition, Schremp added.
“We’re bringing choice and competition to a market that has very much lacked that,” Schremp said. “The technology is now there, and in turn, the cost-effectiveness can now be delivered aerially or underground, assuming there’s reasonable density.”
Bringing affordable broadband to rural areas has been a hot topic for most government boards in Clay County. Though there has been a push from the federal government for years for public-private partnerships when it comes to rural fiber, it’s still a challenge, Schremp said.
“It’s just physics. It’s the number of homes per mile. We talk about the digital divide, we talk about the lack of access to broadband and affordability,” Schremp said. “There’s an array of efforts. For instance, they believe agriculture can be made more connected.”
IQ Fiber plans to offer 250 and 500 megabits a second speed, as well as one-gigabit speeds. Kim Smithers, IQ Fiber’s chief marketing officer, said Clay County is experiencing a growth spurt on par with Jacksonville.
Currently in the design and permitting process, the company’s Phase I involves 60,000 by the summer, but that figure could increase to 300,000. IQ Fiber will also serve Duval, Nassau and St. Johns counties.
“Clay County is coming into its own. There’s a lot of opportunity in Clay County for more remote workers with the general population growth,” Smithers said. “The county has focused on broadband, and taken on the initiative to connect their residents.”