Having access to the Internet is no longer a luxury. It has become a necessity.
Everything from bill paying to weather alerts — not to mention the personal communication value — is done routinely with the miracle of Internet service.
There is also the economic importance as business and industry become almost completely wired to connect with broader audiences and customer bases.
The Southeast Tennessee Development District recently held a summit with regional leaders and residents to discuss the need for better broadband access in the region.
Bradley County seems to be in far better shape than most other counties, but there are pockets where a need remains to be filled.
County Mayor D. Gary Davis said he is aware of where the blank spots are and is being pro-active in trying to fill the gap.
“I asked [Executive Assistant] Lindsay Hathcock to work on the broadband situation right off the bat,” Davis said. “We have lots of people in the southwest sector of the county who are always contacting us about this need.”
Davis said the situation is complicated, and Hathcock gave a report to the County Commission only a few months ago, but it is something that falls short of the Commission’s parameters for a need for immediate action.
“The county as a whole ... we’re pretty well covered,” Davis said. “A few years ago they had federal grants to help put broadband in rural areas. We didn’t meet the criteria then because we are well covered.”
He said there are pockets throughout the county, especially in the southwest, where there have been people moving in from other areas who find out there is not the same ease of Internet access they expect.
“EPB can’t provide it. Volunteer Energy doesn’t provide it. AT&T’s speed isn’t fast enough. Charter only goes where it is economically feasible for them,” Davis said.
He said the people in that area are “really committed and organized,” and they continue to have regional meetings.
Executive Assistant Lindsay Hathcock, who has been spearheading the efforts for the county, said one solution comes from the possibility of tapping into the unused portions of fiber optics.
“They would put up an antenna and service and area for a neighborhood,” Hathcock said. “Some of the antennas he has are only 24 feet tall. Some are over 96 feet tall.”
He said most residents want a “wire they can plug into the back of their computer for stability.”
That is where a solution becomes complicated, because of the desire not to have wireless.
“The difference is wireless, in the past, has been subject to weather, subject to temperature, subject to if a tree grows,” Hathcock said. “But, this is a new generation [of technology] and residents are hesitant to believe what they are being told.”
Davis said the most the county can do with these areas is only be a facilitator.
“This is not something the county is going to be able to provide. It’s not something we can do. It’s bigger than us,” Davis said. “At the same time, we do have these meetings sporadically around the community.”
He said the wireless antennas seem like the best option “we have come across,” to date, but the effort to find a way to get Internet access to the area will continue.