How One Tennessee County Plans to Reach Universal Broadband Access

Date: 19 Oct 2020 | posted in: MuniNetworks | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

More than a year and a half of planning and negotiation will culminate in fiber infrastructure laid to every household in one Tennessee county over the next few years. West Kentucky & Tennessee Telecommunications Cooperative (WK&T), using its own funds along with money from the Henry County Commission and the state of Tennessee, will extend its existing network to cover the entire county and give residents access to its broadband network and services.

Expanding Their Commitment

The recent news serves to expand a partnership that was originally announced in the spring of 2019. At that time, WK&T (founded 1951) pledged $2 million in investment and was awarded $2 million in matching funds from the second round of the state’s Broadband Accessibility Grant Program to reach 912 unserved homes in Henry County.

Local officials have decided to aim higher, however, with the county commission joining the effort to commit $3 million of its own funds to reach as many as 1,400 homes in what County Mayor Brent Greer explained in an interview is the first phase of a countywide build that will take shape over the next 24-26 months. The cost of the first phase will be approximately $8 million, with $3 million coming from the county commission, $3 million from WK&T, and $2 million from the state. By the time it’s through, though,  the project will total $20 million and bring WK&T infrastructure to every home, business, and farm.

Henry County sits in the northwest part of the state and has a population of 32,000 spread across a little over 13,000 households, with the city of Paris holding about a third of the population. The county is predominantly white, with average household incomes below $41,000/year. As part of the terms of this first phase, 325 homes low-income will receive free access for three months, with the opportunity to pay for it afterwards. The local government will be covering the roughly $25,000 in costs to make it happen.

Henry County Farm Bureau President Bobby Milam said originally of the project:

Broadband has been strongly advocated by the Farm Bureau for the past four to five years for this very type of project for the rural community.  We feel it is truly vital for broadband to be available to the agriculture community, which is used for technological farming, studying market trends, and brings our rural communities in line with real world technology.

Broadband in Henry County and Beyond

According to FCC Form 477 data (which remains unreliable but offers the best available data), both Charter Spectrum and AT&T offer service in parts of the county, though many of those living outside of the city of Paris remain underserved or unserved. But, as Greer explained, they’ve also been hearing from residents supposedly covered by incumbent providers who face poor speeds, spotty service, or no access at all asking the local government to facilitate faster, more affordable, more reliable broadband. That served as the motivation for the expanded effort.

Statewide, the third round of a grant program saw almost $20 million more announced to 17 providers for projects covering 31,000 Tennesseans, for a total of $44 million since the program began in 2018.

Since 2009, WK&T has engaged in partnerships with a number of Tennessee and Kentucky counties and aggressively pursued both state and federal funding for broadband expansion projects in and around its original telephone footprint (more than 3,100 meters). It currently has half a dozen ongoing projects, and received $2 million from the third round of the grant program in April.

The cooperative offers a number of plans today. All require 2-year service agreements, with households choosing from:

  • 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) for $90/month.
  • 250 Mbps for $100/month.
  • 500 Mbps for $130/month.
  • Gigabit for $150/month.

Wi-Fi routers can be rented for $3/month.

Read more about broadband in Tennessee, including a recent partnership between an electric cooperative and a telephone cooperative in Warren County, in our past coverage.

Photo via Wikimedia Commmons

This article was originally published on ILSR’s Read the original here.

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Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Ry is a Senior Researcher with ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks Initiative. He is interested in the democratizing power of technology, systems engineering, and the history of science, technology, and medicine.