Florida Power & Light has donated 1,000 utility poles to the county for antenna replacement to help the School District of Palm Beach County with distance learning related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The announcement was made at the Palm Beach County Commission meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 27.
County Administrator Verdenia Baker said the partnership with FPL drives home the fact that the county and businesses work together to drive the community forward.
“We developed this partnership with FPL that I’m really proud of,” Baker said.
Palm Beach County Chief Information Officer Archie Satchell said the donation will fill in Wi-Fi in areas where signals are lacking.
“FPL has offered as a donation to the county 1,000 poles to assist with the objective of providing distance learning access,” Satchell said.
FPL Vice President of External Development Pam Rauch thanked the commissioners for their leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Access to education for every child during this time is really critical,” Rauch said. “At FPL, we are so thrilled that we can play a part.”
She said that the 1,000 poles will allow the school district to provide Wi-Fi access where it is lacking. “That was the number of poles needed to get access into some communities where there are gaps,” Rauch said.
Rauch said the poles have been ordered and will arrive in a couple of weeks.
“We are thrilled that every child will have access to the internet,” she said.
Commissioner Robert Weinroth said businesses working with public entities to overcome a difficult situation is a positive outcome of the pandemic.
“This is going to be one of the real benefits that our stakeholders are going to see out of this pandemic,” Weinroth said. “What we’ve been able to do in strengthening the broadband and infrastructure is going to last well beyond this pandemic.”
Commissioner Hal Valeche asked how the rest of the infrastructure, such as antennas and cables, would be supplied, and Satchell said $13.75 million would come from the CARES Act allocated for the project, but that figure would not completely fund it.
“We are continuing to work and see how we can get donations,” he said. “This is only going to do a portion of filling in the gaps. There are still areas that we will have to do.”
Baker said the county is also working with the Florida Department of Transportation to push communications fibers through its system, as well as the county’s, to reach some areas.
“We are pulling out all the stops by bringing others to the table so that our community is well covered,” she said, adding that staff might come back to the commission to ask for additional CARES Act funding to continue to close the information gap.
Weinroth made a motion to approve the donation, which carried 5-0 with commissioners Gregg Weiss and Mary Lou Berger absent.