High Speed Internet Comes to the Panhandle

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By Kenneth Books

Tired of slow Internet? Tired of being bounced in the middle of your session? Live Oak Fiber is laying the lines to overcome those problems.

Halfway complete, some 200,000 customers are expected to sign on to the fiber optic Internet plan, from Valparaiso to Santa Rosa County.

Why here?

“What’s not to like?” said Steve Smith, Live Oak’s chief revenue officer and founder. “The world’s best beaches. A growing population. And we also found the existing providers were absentee landlords. They were not doing a good job maintaining.”

Live Oak is the largest greenfield fiber project in the world, with its local headquarters in the former Coldwell Banker building behind Bluewater Bay’s Winn Dixie. So far, the company has investing $145 million to build the network. The company has made a commitment to hire locally to ensure the benefits of a local company working for the community it serves, according to a Live Oak press release. So far, it’s hired about 100 locals, primarily in Niceville. These include hires in technical, sales, marketing, customer service, engineering and operations. “That’s a lot, I think, in two years,” Smith said.

Live Oak Fiber CablesPart of its financing comes from a grant from the Florida Broadband Opportunity program. It earned “Best in Destin” honors through VIP Destin Magazine and was named Business of the Year by the Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce. One Okaloosa Business Leadership Council recognized the Milken Institute Best Performing Cities report, which cited the company as being the key reason of moving to the area forward from a broadband ranking of number 182 to number 23.

It all started in July 2022.

“We had to identify the markets, find office space, renovate when we could and find the coffee cups,” Smith said. Already, between 6,000 and 7,000 customers are on board.
The company started out working with infrared capital partners and created a solar farm and toll road around the Denver airport. Originally, it received $150 million from the airport hierarchy “and we’re close to spending that,” Smith said. “We’re in the process of raising $200-250 million. We’re a platform they like.”

“One out of every three houses in Bluewater Bay and Shalimar are among our customers,” he said.

The service will include 500-megabye, 2-gigabye and 5-gigabye options, with packages ranging from $55 to $135 per month. There are no data caps. “Incumbent providers like to charge for that,” he said.

“This might be one of the largest private infrastructure projects the county has ever seen,” Smith said. “Our goal is to get fiber-reliable activity for every American.”

It’s a big job, but one that seems to resonate with customers.

“We’re trying to offer Internet the way it should be,” Smith said. Feedback is important. We believe our reliable Internet is better and having people who can solve your problems is better. We have a much more resilient structure and unlimited connectivity.”

To learn more about Live Oak Fiber, go to liveoakfiber.com.