Broadband voted Newsmaker No. 8
By BRIAN GRAVES
Broadband service is beginning to make its way into rural Bradley County. That was chosen as the No.
8 story on the Top 10 Newsmakers of 2017 list by the editors and staff writers of the Cleveland Daily Banner. After years of feeling lost in the desert, portions of the county which has been void of connections to the internet began seeing some light at the end of a fiber optic line as Volunteer Electric Cooperative began to offer services in a limited portion of north Bradley County early in December. That service offers speeds up to 1 Gig internet speeds, as well as cable television and phone services with internet prices starting at £49.99.
Commissioner Mike Hughes, who represents the area where the pilot program has been centered, called the prices “very competitive.” That was made possible by a new law, proposed by Gov. Bill Haslam, that allows cooperatives to apply for grants specifically to assist in expanding broadband throughout the least served areas of the state.
Current law forbids a public utility such as EPB from providing broadband services outside of its service footprint. Effort were made to change that law — efforts spearheaded by state Reps. Kevin Brooks and Dan Howell — but it was to no avail.
Once the new initiative was passed, VEC was quick to step into the idea and recently announced its partnership with Twin Lakes Telephone Cooperative to begin a pilot program to test the potential market for the services. Rody Blevins, CEO/president of VEC, told the Banner he expects the pilot program to be successful, meaning the cooperative will in time expand even further into the rural areas of the county. “If we have real low response, that’s going to hurt us,” Blevins said in October. “We are not-for-profit, so this thing has to pay for itself over time.
If I show my board it will never pay for itself, we can’t do it. But, I don’t think that’s going to be the case.” He said the projected cost to serve “roughly three-fourths of Bradley County” would be £40 million.
“If we could get 50 percent to take the service, we would be in pretty good shape,” Blevins said. “We urge everyone to take advantage of this opportunity so we can finally provide these long-desired services to those areas that have not been able to access them.” “We said this in session,” Brooks commented. “Broadband service is no longer a wish, it is a necessity. It’s a utility.
It is just as important to our homes in Bradley County as power and water and lights and phones. It is right there with those services.” “We fought hard in the Legislature to get it to this point,” Howell said. “I am so glad to see VEC step up with this pilot program in their effort to provide broadband device to their rural service area.
This is a giant step forward.” The legislators efforts were also supported in Nashville by state Sens. Mike Bell and Todd Gardenhire.
State and local officials are urging residents to contact VEC to let them know of their interest.