Our County: Broadband Internet important for rural Bradley
by D. Gary Davis
Jul 16, 2013 | 1548 views | 0 0 comments | 38 38 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Since Fall 2009, my office has worked with a national nonprofit organization called Connected Tennessee to make high-speed Internet (broadband) available to all Bradley County citizens. This is especially important in the outlying rural areas of the county where access to high-speed Internet is very limited.

Connected Tennessee is affiliated with the overall national effort directed by Connected Nation. Connected Tennessee has been coordinating workshops in Bradley County and seeking input from a broad range of business, industry, government and civic leaders, as well as broadband providers such as Charter Communications, AT&T and Comcast. The goal is to develop an effective strategy to make high-speed Internet available to everyone with a special focus on the rural areas now served only by dialup.

While dialup is better than nothing, it is like comparing a horse and buggy to a modern luxury automobile. Broadband internet service, which includes DSL, cable modem, satellite and other forms of technology, has several advantages over dialup. For example, downloading a 2-hour movie on dialup may range from eight hours ... to impossible. Downloading that same movie on broadband may take just five minutes, depending upon the speed tier.

The need for Broadband in the rural areas of Bradley County is becoming increasingly important for several reasons. More and more school children need broadband to do research for homework and other school assignments. As our local economy grows, businesses and industries who settle in the outlying areas need broadband Internet to conduct business. Many home-based businesses rely on broadband as the lifeline to their economic survival. Also, high-speed Internet service is becoming increasingly necessary as a tool for industrial recruitment by the county.

Industries such as Wacker, Volkswagen, Whirlpool and more must have broadband to communicate with suppliers and conduct business in this global marketplace. Many employers have established policies of accepting job applications only through the Internet. With these rapid changes in technology, it becomes increasingly clear why Bradley County must make every effort to promote broadband access to every part of the county.

Almost weekly my office is contacted by concerned citizens who cannot understand why the broadband suppliers in Bradley County do not extend service to their community. These are willing and paying customers who are very frustrated about the lack of broadband availability to their neighborhood. I share that frustration, but the county has no authority to tell a private enterprise how or where to conduct its business.

I am happy to report, however, that some progress has been made. Recently, AT&T announced the rollout of its new LTE wireless service. Bradley County is the first community to receive it in this region. The new service is wireless (not satellite) and operates basically like a wireless system inside your home.

We were told that the entire industry seems to be moving in this direction, as evidenced by a recent article in the Wall Street Journal. AT&T officials say they are committed to building a tower infrastructure that will serve the entire rural areas of the county. I have been assured that the new wireless system is competitively priced with wired cable. I have seen the measured bandwidth in the areas where it is available and it is equal to or better than cable.

The local AT&T manager, Gabe Whitmer, can assist you in determining if your home is now covered by the wireless signal. If not, he may be able to give you a projected date when service will be available in your area. Gabe's number is 423-472-1502 or 423-991-3854. His email is gabe.whitmer@att.com.

There have been federal funds available through a grant program which were designated to be used to wire rural areas for Internet. The funds are allocated through an application process. Unfortunately, when our needs assessment is compared to several other rural county applications, we have been turned down since a higher percentage of our citizens have access to broadband.

Connected Tennessee is working with us to develop a full report of our current countywide Internet capabilities. This comprehensive report will serve as a guideline for specific steps your 1ocal government, businesses, schools and others can take to expand broadband availability and increase its use. The purpose is to answer three questions: Where are we today? Where do we want to be? How do we get there?

Hopefully, the result will be a plan to help us reach our goal of a Connected Bradley County and further proof that this community is Tennessee at its best.