County working to improve internet access

By AUTUMN HUGHES
Posted 11/13/19

For most of rural Bradley County, access to internet service is spotty or completely unavailable. The Bradley County Commission is taking steps to address the issue and help boost availability of what has become a vital service.

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County working to improve internet access

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(Editor's Note: This is the eighth in a two-week series exploring existing infrastructure and future needs in the Cleveland and Bradley County community.)

For most of rural Bradley County, access to internet service is spotty or completely unavailable.

The Bradley County Commission is taking steps to address the issue and help boost availability of what has become a vital service.

Bradley County Commissioner Erica Davis is chairperson of both the county commission’s ad hoc committee for Broadband Ready Community and the Broadband Initiative ad hoc committee. Davis thinks broadband is important for many reasons, including educational and business opportunities.

"You want them to keep up," Davis said of students whose only reliable access to the internet may be at school.

In her own experience, Davis said she has satellite internet at home, for personal use and for the custom and contract hauling business she and her husband own. She also referred to a constituent who spoke to the county commission in September; Charlie Brewer, a resident of Lead Mine Valley Road, was concerned about his "horrible cellular service" and inability to get internet access.

Brewer said he owns his own business and online advertising and posting on social media is difficult from home. Security is also an issue because he can't use a Ring doorbell because of no internet access.

“It’s ridiculous sometimes,” Brewer said, adding when he moved there 18 years ago "this wasn't a big deal," but it is now.

Commissioner Kevin Raper said over the last 20 years broadband has become a basic need "like clean drinking water."

In 2018, the county commission took action to make Bradley County a “Broadband Ready Community,” which will allow providers like Volunteer Energy Cooperative and others to apply for grants to bring broadband service here.

David Murphy, vice president of Marketing & Economic Development for Volunteer Energy Cooperative, brought the idea of a Broadband Ready Community Committee to the board. Murphy said VEC applies for state and federal grants to expand its broadband service. He added that communities designated as a Broadband Ready Community earn additional points on their grant applications.

Davis said she believes the newly formed Broadband Initiative ad hoc committee will help bring and share information about options that are currently available to residents, or are being planned for the future.

Earlier this month, County Commission Chairman Johnny Mull named the members of the Broadband Initiative Ad Hoc Committee. They are Erica Davis; Lindsay Hathcock, who will represent the County Mayor's office; Scott Webb, who will represent Bradley County Schools; County Commission Vice Chairman Thomas Crye; Volunteer Energy Cooperative representatives Aaron Hood and David Murphy; Charter Communications representative Nick Pavlis; Bradley County resident Tom Mathews; and Jeremy Jarvis, representative for CORPTEK Computer and Network Services & Solutions.

Davis said the committee’s goals are to:

• Educate the public on the latest steps being taken in this area to expand broadband accessibility, as well as “what’s coming in the future.”

• Invite local and state officials, school board members and members of the public, so they can “all hear directly from them.”

• Talk about the process and provide real-time action steps “so we know where we are in this effort to get Bradley County broadband in every district.”

• Work to lobby state and local officials “to ensure that Bradley County receives top consideration for future grants and projects.”

The Broadband Initiative ad hoc committee’s first meeting has been scheduled for noon on Tuesday, Nov. 19, in the County Commission Conference Room, in the Courthouse.

Davis said she has asked all committee members to present "where they are in Bradley County, talking about broadband." Her goal is for the committee to work toward a plan with schools to help students have access to broadband at home.

Davis said she also wants to see improved accessibility and affordability for internet service.

"You've got to make it affordable for families to have it," she said.

According to BroadbandNow, a website that helps consumers find and compare internet service providers in their area, Cleveland has a total of 19 provider networks.

“Currently, there are seven internet service providers (ISPs) in Cleveland with residential service,” the website stated. “If you include business ISPs, that's 19 internet providers overall, such as AT&T and GTT Communications. (Some might be "double entries," as many companies sell residential service and business services under separate branches.)”

BroadbandNow also notes Cleveland ranks 132nd out of 515 communities in Tennessee so far as internet connectivity.

Visit https://broadbandnow.com/Tennessee/Cleveland to see the available local options, and check availability.

In addition, Davis said Bradley Countians can visit Volunteer Energy Cooperative’s website and express interest in broadband.

To do so, visit vec.org and click on the “Broadband Service” link in the upper right corner. Once routed to the Twin Lakes — powered by VEC Fiber website, fill out the address form on the right side to learn more about what’s available.

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