Residents at Lake Wales Retirement Community to Vote on Community-Wide Internet

Article Courtesy of The Ledger

By Lance Ferguson

Published January 30, 2014 


LAKE WALES -- A proposal to give residents access to high-speed Internet at a reduced rate has turned a Lake Wales retirement community into a powder keg, waiting for a spark.

Saddlebag Lake Resort is home to about 800 residents, many of whom are snowbirds and some of whom oppose the plan that would require them to pay for Internet service whether they want it or not.

The proposal by Bob and Virginia Staib, who live in Saddlebag, will be put to a vote Feb. 14 by residents of the resort, off State Road 60 about 7 miles east of U.S. 27, that is owned by the homeowners.

The couple started providing Internet service to the community when the previous Internet company, Lake Wales Wireless, went out of business in May 2010.

Bob Staib said their 4000MB wireless Internet service, KCNetworks, is the "fastest privately owned Internet feed in the U.S." 

Subscribers to the service pay between $40 and $50 a month with no contract.

Staib said the last Internet provider to Saddlebag had problems because there were 

Some residents at the Saddlebag Lake Resort are opposed to the idea of a community-wide Internet provider. Two of the residents who are opposed to the community-wide Internet are Jim Herbst, left and George Goldstein, pictured on Thursday in Lake Wales.

only 88 paying customers, yet 450 households used the service. 

His proposed solution is to provide Internet access to the entire community for $15 a month per home. That money would be added to the quarterly dues all residents pay to live there.

Dues are currently $485 and will soon be raised to $500. Staib's proposal would bring the three-month quarterly total to $545.

"There a quite a few people who would find $545 harder to pay than $500," Staib said.

But he also stated that "you can't steal it if everybody has the right to have it." 

Staib said he and his wife have been losing money since June 2010, at least $15,000 a month.

"I've had a blessed life," Staib said, explaining how he has managed the loss of money. 

Charging residents $15 a month would allow the couple to break even.

Though, for him, it has nothing to do with the money, Staib said.

"I had a vision of a park-wide Internet system," he said.

The idea was first put to a vote in 2011 with no success. Staib said 238 residents voted for the proposed changes, while 244 voted against.

But Staib wants to try again.

Residents opposed to adding Internet service to dues say it is not fair to those who use a different service and those who do not use a computer at all.

"Some of us feel that isn't right," resident James Herbst said. "I'll pay for my own. I don't expect other people to subsidize me."

Another resident, retired Navy diver George Goldstein, said he and his wife would no longer be able to afford living in Saddlebag.

"With the retirement I get, plus Social Security, come the end of the month we're struggling to buy groceries," Goldstein said. "If they're wanting to increase the dues here it's going to be not the end of the month but probably the middle of the month that we'll be digging to try to find groceries."

"Some people just can't manage," resident Sue Teague said. "They can't see the screen, they can't manage the keyboard, they can't use Internet. It's not an essential service; it's a highly discretionary service that is kind of being forced upon people in this community."

Staib argues that "not everybody uses the pool or boat dock, but everybody pays for it."

Ken Lewis, president of Saddlebag's board, said if the idea passes, they would look for other Internet providers before going to KCNetworks.

Staib said he would continue his Internet service if no other company was able to match the $15-per-month fee. KCNetworks also would continue with the current service plan if the proposal is voted down.

Staib said he was just trying to do something helpful, and if homeowners vote against the plan Feb. 14, he is all right with that as long as it is what the majority of residents want.