Ben Lomand Connect has received a $1.5 million federal grant that will allow the company to extend broadband service into the rural Pocahontas area in Northern Coffee County, according to CEO of Ben Lomand Lisa Cope.
The grant award is in addition to the announcement last week that the company has applied for a $2 million grant through Gov. Bill Haslam’s State Broadband Accessibility Act signed in April.
Ben Lomand a McMinnville-based company, providing broadband, digital TV, phone and home security, applied for the federal grant in March.
The USDA announced that Ben Lomand was chosen as a $1.5 million winner for the grant under the Community-Oriented Connectivity Broadband Grant Program administered by the Rural Utilities Service.
Ben Lomand will construct state-of-the-art fiber to the premise facilities that will serve 179 customers, according to Cope.
“We have to wait to receive the official grant documents before we can begin (construction), so we don’t have a construction date yet, but we do anticipate to be able to connect customers by late summer,” Cope said.
The fiber optic installed will be both aerial and buried, according to Cope.
The grant has a match requirement of 15 percent, said Cope.
The small, north-eastern community of Coffee County currently has very limited connection speeds, according to Ben Lomand officials.
“Students in the area needed the capabilities of high-speed broadband service to complete coursework, while those working from home needed the internet to access information or connect remotely,” said Roger Bynum with Ben Lomand.
“Residents expressed their need to be able to communicate with doctors’ offices, submit prescription refill requests online, and have access to online health information. In addition, this remote community needed access to public safety announcements such as severe weather alerts.”
The new plant will include 40.96 miles of outside plant (OSP) fiber, service drops, central office equipment (COE) and customer premise equipment (CPE).
The plant will be provisioned using an active Ethernet (AE), fiber to the premise (FTTP) architecture. Ben Lomand has chosen the AE FTTP architecture because of the proven reliability and because of the high bandwidth and “future proof” nature of such a system.
“The USDA program was designed to address broadband coverage in areas similar to this part of Coffee County,” said Terry Kokinda, general field representative for the USDA.
“The involvement and support of the community played a major role in Ben Lomand’s successful application and this award is a high point for my retirement.”
Coffee County Mayor Gary Cordell said providing broadband to rural areas of the county is essential.
“It’s a great thing, and it will be helpful to the citizens,” Cordell said. “We have to get broadband out all across our county and to both of our cities.”
Broadband is critically important for businesses and people who work from their homes, said Cordell.
“Even farmers are now needing broadband for their work,” Cordell said. “It is such a complicated universe we live in; we need broadband and our children need broadband, too. A lot of our kids have to go to the library to do their homework; they need broadband in their homes. We need broadband across the county.”
There are other areas in the county, in addition to the Pocahontas community, that need high-speed internet, as well. Broadband is described as at least 25 megabits per second download speed and three megabits per second upload speed. Cordell said he does not have an exact number of residents lacking broadband service in the county.
Ben Lomand Connect has also applied for a $2 million grant, which would also be used to extend broadband service into the rural Pocahontas area.
The company has submitted application for funds provided through the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act. The grant program aims to increase broadband access to rural, unserved citizens.
Tennessee currently ranks 29th in the U.S. for broadband access.
While only 2 percent of the state’s urban citizens lack access, 34 percent of rural residents are without coverage at recognized minimum standards due to low population density and challenging geography.
With a focus on private sector broadband deployment, the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act addresses broadband access and adoption by addressing investment, deregulation and education.
Ben Lomand Connect was incorporated Oct. 2, 1952, to provide local telephone service to rural middle Tennessee. It has over 32,000 access lines covering 3,200 square miles of territory. The company was the first competitive local exchange carrier in Tennessee. The cooperative has more than 20,000 internet customers with more than 8,000 connected with Ben Lomand Fiber.