Commission considers broadband options

By AUTUMN HUGHES
Posted 9/26/18

Internet access is an important aspect of everyday life for many in the community: students completing school assignments at home, business owners communicating with customers, families keeping in touch, and countless other uses.

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Commission considers broadband options

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Internet access is an important aspect of everyday life for many in the community: students completing school assignments at home, business owners communicating with customers, families keeping in touch, and countless other uses.

If the Bradley County Commission approves pursuing it, the county may become a Broadband Ready Community, helping make internet access more readily available to local residents.

During Monday night’s commission work session, Commissioner Thomas Crye brought up the subject of broadband access. He said there is a major issue with broadband service – rather, the lack of it – and that has a detrimental effect on education of students because of lack of internet access at home.

“This has been a cancer in our community ever since I’ve been elected,” Crye said.

He then introduced David Murphy, vice president of Marketing & Economic Development for Volunteer Energy Cooperative, who said VEC has taken initial steps in Bradley County “to hopefully be of help to the issue at hand.”

In January 2017, VEC began installation of broadband fiber to the Hopewell community. Murphy said the pilot program currently serves approximately 435 homes and is expanding, with plans to serve up to 611 homes.

Murphy said it costs VEC approximately $22,000 to $24,000 per mile of fiber optic cable installed. He noted that is less than other providers’ costs because VEC can use its own infrastructure.

To expand its broadband service, VEC applies for state and federal grants, Murphy said. He added that communities designated as a Broadband Ready Community earn additional points on their grant applications.

According to the Tennessee Department of Economic & Community Development, the guidelines for designation must include a requirement that the political subdivision has adopted an efficient and streamlined ordinance or policy for reviewing applications and issuing permits related to projects relative to broadband services.

Murphy asked commissioners to consider adopting an ordinance, resolution or policy to seek the Broadband Ready Community designation, which will help with VEC’s efforts to expand broadband access throughout Bradley County.

Emphasizing the importance of the designation, Murphy said VEC was denied an Appalachian Regional Commission grant because the community to be served was not a Broadband Ready Community.

“Our intention is to apply on behalf of Bradley County this year,” Murphy said, adding if approved that could mean 600 to 700 more homes in Bradley County could gain broadband access.

“I feel that it’s imperative we get this taken care of in advance,” Murphy said. He added state officials have said the Broadband Ready Community designation is a key aspect of the grant process.

According to the Tennessee Department of Economic & Community Development, the nearest designated Broadband Ready Communities are Meigs, Rhea and Roane counties.

Commissioner Bobby Goins asked about VEC’s rates for broadband service. Murphy said VEC has partnered with Twin Lakes Telephone Cooperative to offer the service and is using Twin Lakes’ pricing structure: 100 Mbps download for $49.99, up to 1 Gig for $79.99 per month.

“We also offer telephone and digital television service,” Murphy said.

Crye told Murphy he believes he and his fellow commissioners will “try our best to take action.”

Commissioner Erica Davis said broadband access is the top issue among constituents she talked to during her campaign. She then asked for an ad hoc committee to be established to look into Bradley County seeking designation as a Broadband Ready Community.

In other business, commissioners:

• Placed on the Oct. 1 voting session agenda an item to discuss and fill the vacancy in the Tennessee House of Representatives, District 24, resulting from the resignation of Rep. Kevin Brooks. Brooks was elected mayor of Cleveland and resigned from his House seat earlier this month.

• Heard from Commissioner Charlotte Peak that the Building and Land Committee will meet at 6:15 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 1, at the Bradley County Schools central office.

• Heard from Crye the Education Committee will meet at noon on Wednesday, Oct. 17, at the Bradley County Planning Office’s conference room at the Courthouse Annex.

• Heard from Peak the county’s environmental office is down an employee, so it is important to make an appointment when seeking a septic tank permit. She said it is taking two to three weeks to get a permit, so anyone seeking a permit should plan accordingly.

The Bradley County Commission will meet in voting session at 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 1, at the Bradley County Schools central office.

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