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Second grant will help expand broadband into rural county

Posted on Saturday, February 3, 2018 at 1:00 pm

STAFF WRITER

Elena Cawley

 

More than 400 homes in the Pocahontas community in Northern Coffee County will soon have access to broadband.

Ben Lomand Connect is one of the recipients of a state broadband accessibility grant and will receive $1.025 million for the project, which will bring high-speed internet to rural Coffee County.

With the state grant having a 50/50 match requirement, the total investment will top $2 million.

Ben Lomand, a McMinnville-based company providing broadband, digital TV, phone and home security, applied for the state grant in November.

Last week, Gov. Bill Haslam announced the $10 million in broadband accessibility grants that will help build new broadband infrastructure in parts of 13 Tennessee counties.

Ben Lomand is one of those recipients.

Ben Lomand CEO Lisa Cope displays fiber that will soon be expanded to the Pocahontas community in rural Coffee County. Ben Lomand Connect has been awarded a $1 million broadband accessibility grant to bring high-speed internet to the area.
–Staff Photo by Elena Cawley

“This is a matching grant, with Ben Lomand Connect also investing $1.1 million in the (project) to provide service to 416 locations, (including) 26 businesses and agribusinesses,” said Ben Lomand CEO Lisa Cope.

The residents and local officials of Coffee County and Manchester worked in partnership with Ben Lomand Connect to satisfy the criteria by providing information of what is currently offered versus what is needed to fulfill the needs of to the residents and businesses, said Cope.

“We are extremely honored to be awarded this Broadband Accessibility Grant in Coffee County,” Cope said. “Governor Haslam created this grant program with the intention of facilitating broadband deployment in the unserved areas of Tennessee.

‘We have discussed with residents in these areas their needs and firmly believe that the desires of the State of Tennessee and the communities will be met and exceeded with our fiber deployment.”

A timetable for construction is expected to be determined soon, according to Cope.

“A schedule for work to begin has not been set by the state at this time, but informational meetings from the state regarding the time table are slated for the near future,” Cope said.

Coffee County Mayor Gary Cordell welcomed the news.

“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.”

The legislation outlining the state grant requirements, signed in April, removed legal restrictions to allow the state’s private, member-owned electric cooperatives to provide high-speed internet service.

Municipal utilities, such as Tullahoma Utilities Authority, are still prohibited by law from expanding past their electric service areas.

The state bill provides $45 million over three years in grants and tax credits for service providers to assist in making broadband available to unserved homes and businesses.

Two more rounds of grants are expected to be awarded.

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.

Grant recipients

Ben Lomand Communications received $1 million to serve the Pocahontas Community in Coffee County.

Aeneas Communications was awarded $190,000 to serve parts of Hardeman County.

Comcast received $850,000 to serve parts of Tipton County.

DTC Communications received $1.7 million to serve parts of Smith and Wilson counties.

Gibson Electric Membership Corporation received $1.4 million to serve parts of Lake and Obion counties.

Scott County Telephone Cooperative was awarded $1.9 million to serve Surgoinsville in Hawkins County.

Sunset Digital Communications received $1.4 million to serve parts of Claiborne and Hancock counties.

Tri-County Fiber Communications was awarded $1.4 to serve parts of Sumner and Trousdale counties.

Volunteer First Services received $76,714 to serve the Sunset Ridge Community in Cumberland County.

 

Federal grant

In November, Ben Lomand was also awarded a $1.5 million federal grant to serve 179 customers in the Pocahontas community under the Community-Oriented Connectivity Broadband Grant program.

With the federal grant funds, Ben Lomand will construct state-of-the-art fiber to the premise facilities that will serve 179 customers, according to Cope.

Cope anticipates that these new customers will be connected by late summer.

The fiber optic installed in the area will be both aerial and buried, according to Cope.

This federal 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 Cope.

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.

Elena Cawley may be reached by email at tngenrep@lcs.net.

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