County eyes 'hotspot' plan for future broadband accessibility

By AUTUMN HUGHES
Posted 12/5/19

Bradley County officials are putting their support behind a University of Tennessee study geared toward supporting the lending of mobile Wi-Fi hotspot devices from school libraries.

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County eyes 'hotspot' plan for future broadband accessibility

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Bradley County officials are putting their support behind a University of Tennessee study geared toward supporting the lending of mobile Wi-Fi hotspot devices from school libraries.

Bradley County Commissioner Erica Davis discussed the study with fellow commissioners earlier this week, as part of her report on the recent gathering of the Broadband Initiative Ad Hoc Committee. Davis is chairperson of that committee.

Davis said Bradley County Schools has conducted a survey in cooperation with the University of Tennessee at Knoxville to better determine broadband needs for students at home. Davis said she wants to invite Dr. Sreedhar Upendram, assistant professor in UTK’s Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, to next week’s work session to discuss the survey and his proposed research project “Bridging the Digital Divide in Tennessee: Expanding a Library Mobile Hotspot Lending Program.”

Chairman Johnny Mull drafted a letter to UTK, noting the county commission “would be happy to collaborate” with Upendram on the proposed research project.

“Dr. Upendram is seeking funds to support mobile hotspots in school libraries at 11 elementary schools in Bradley County,” the letter stated. “In particular, this project will provide mobile hotspots to households in Bradley County to enable students to access internet for school work. The county commission extends its support on this project that benefits students and residents in Bradley County.”

Davis said the Broadband Initiative Ad Hoc Committee had a productive meeting. She shared the discussion from the committee, including that Charter Communications is developing a wireless internet option expected to be completed by the end of 2020. In addition, Volunteer Energy Cooperative and Twin Lakes continue to explore grant funding for expansion, she said.

Davis pointed out she has invited David Murphy, vice president of Marketing and Economic Development for Volunteer Energy Cooperative, to the county commission’s Jan. 13 work session to discuss broadband infrastructure grant opportunities.

"Overall it was a very productive meeting," she said.

Davis also noted that incorrect mapping by the Federal Communications Commission is a big issue, and broadband expansion funding is being "delayed or derailed" because of it. She said FCC mapping is based on U.S. Census blocks.

"The Census block is the problem," she said.

For example, if the Census data shows one house on a street has access to broadband service, the entire street is counted as served, even if the house with access doesn't take advantage of the service.

"It doesn't matter if the house is actually going to receive (internet) service," Davis said.

Davis showed the FCC map of Bradley County, with areas in blue considered served and ineligible for federal and state funding for broadband expansion.

"This map represents a real problem," Davis said.

Davis noted she has reached out to U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann's office, and also wants to meet with U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn.

Commissioner Bill Winters asked if Charter has shared why it is not moving forward and expanding its service in Bradley County. Davis said it is showing this area as served.

Mull added the Charter representative present for the ad hoc committee meeting said the projected return on investment is a reason for not expanding.

In other business, the county commission:

• Heard from Commissioner Kevin Raper, who recalled two or three months ago he brought in local resident Dick Watson, a World War II veteran of D-Day. He said Watson passed away recently and he wants to honor “all the things he did for us, for America.”

“Thank you, Mr. Dick Watson, for your service,” Raper said.

• Heard from Davis, who acknowledged the loss of Stash, a narcotic-detecting K-9 at the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office.

According to a BCSO social media post last week, “Stash was a beautiful Malinois-Shepherd mix, who served as a narcotics detective for seven years. The loss of one of our K-9s is a heavy one, as they are a very special part of who we are and what we do. Please keep her handler in your thoughts and prayers.”

Davis thanked Companion Funeral & Cremation Service for providing the service for Stash at no cost to the county.

• Heard from Commissioner Thomas Crye, who congratulated North Lee Elementary School's Ramblin’ Rams Robotics team for its success. He said the students are scheduled to attend next week's county commission meeting for recognition.

North Lee recently won the Chattanooga-North Georgia Regional First LEGO League Robotics Qualifying Tournament’s Project Innovation Solution Award, earning the team a place in the upcoming regional championship to be held in Dalton, Georgia.

Commissioner Louie Alford reiterated Crye’s comments, congratulating the North Lee students.

• Heard from Commissioner Charlotte Peak, who said last week in the Cleveland Daily Banner there was an article about the Partnerships in Industry and Education (PIE) Innovation Center and its new gym. She said she has had a few calls asking if the gym is part of the "warm dark shell," and if it is being funded by money from the county.

Peak said she supports the PIE Center, adding “I believe in it 100%,” and she would appreciate an opportunity for an update in the next few weeks. She also asked that copies of letters of intent for tenants of the PIE Center be included in that update.

On a related note, Winters said he attended the PIE and Coffee meeting about looking for grants for the facility.

"There's some great things," Winters said, referring to looking at building programs offered at the PIE Center.

The next meeting of the Bradley County Commission is a work session scheduled for Monday, Dec. 9, at noon, in the County Commission Courtroom of the Courthouse.

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