County residents continue to upload the message to Nashville that they want legislation passed that would allow EPB to bring its broadband service to Bradley County.
Monday’s Bradley County Commission meeting brought a packed room which, according to the remarks that brought reaction, were mostly there concerning the Internet issue.
After a full discussion by commissioners and members of the audience, the governing body approved a resolution 12-1 in support of legislation sponsored by state Reps. Kevin Brooks and Dan Howell to remove the current limitation restricting municipal electric utilities’ ability to provide fiber optic services outside of their electrical footprint to those areas who request the service.
Blake Kitterman, president of the Bradley County Young Democrats, addressed the Commission with the support of his organization.
“When Bradley County citizens succeed, we all succeed, and EPB broadband expansion means an interconnected community,” Kitterman said. “It means opportunities for businesses to affordably advertise their products, and students to be able to take part in higher forms of learning.”
He also noted the ever-increasing role broadband is playing in education.
“In Bradley County, where we don’t have Internet that is consistent in speed, quality or price, we find that students are having difficulty accessing online assignments, teachers are not being able to pull up course material, and businesses are having to dig deep into their day’s earnings just to pay for outrageously priced Internet services,” Kitterman said.
Commissioner Thomas Crye offered information that he said was to clear up some misconceptions and address concerns.
Vice Chairman Jeff Yarber, who had the lone vote against the resolution, expressed his concern about placing a public entity in competition with a private business.
Crye noted the Internet would still have competition, just like EPB does with Comcast and AT&T.
“Another concern was going into private industry,” Crye said. “AT&T and four other telecoms were just awarded $1.5 billion by the FCC.”
That was a point Commissioner Dan Rawls attached himself to, saying that while he has concerns about the government taking over services provided by a private company, these telecommunications companies “have taken hundreds of billions of taxpayer money.”
“In my mind, that forfeits their ability to call themselves private businesses,” he said.
Crye acknowledged EPB received more than $100 million in stimulus money to build its infrastructure.
“However, they paid it back two years early,” he said. “They receive no taxpayer funds. Their income is from Internet rate payers, and the telecom side is not subsidized by the electric side.”
Crye said EPB is now running in the black and is now the largest taxpayer in Chattanooga/Hamilton County.
“Instead of getting tax subsidies, just the opposite is true,” he said.” They subsidize the city, county and other municipalities. The same is true for Cleveland Utilities [in Bradley County]. They have paid over $12.4 million over the past six years.”
Commissioner Bill Winters said it was time for some action on the issue.
“I think government should respond when private business does not,” Winters said.
There were many intervals of loud applause every time a point was made in favor of the resolution; however, it was Commissioner Mike Hughes who got the loudest and most sustained ovation with one sentence.
He spoke about the criticism he has heard from constituents about the service and lack of service from Charter and AT&T.
“They had their opportunity, and they failed,” Hughes said. “It’s time to open it up.”
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