Grant funds could expand broadband

Ben Lomand Connect has applied for a $2 million grant that would allow the company to expand broadband service into the Pocahontas area in northern Coffee County. Chad Dees is operations man-ager of Ben Lomand’s central office in McMInnville. –Staff Photo by Elena Cawley

STAFF WRITER

Elena Cawley

 

Ben Lomand Connect has applied for a $2 million grant, which would 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 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.

Ben Lomand Connect is a McMinnville-based company, providing broadband, digital TV, phone and home security services.

 

Funds aiding broadband projects

Ben Lomand Connect has applied for a $2 million grant that would allow the company to expand broadband service into the Pocahontas area in northern Coffee County. Chad Dees is operations manager of Ben Lomand’s central office in McMinnville.

–Staff Photo by Elena Cawley

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

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

The deadline for submitting applications for the first round of grants was Nov. 17. In the first year, $10 million will be available.

The grants are meant to help offset the capital expenses of deploying broadband in unserved areas. Projects must serve locations without access to download speeds of at least 10 megabits per second and upload speeds of at least one megabit per second, with preference given to areas that are unlikely to receive service without the grant funding.

Broadband is described as at least 25 megabits per second download speed and three megabits per second upload speed. The grant awards are expected to be announced in January.

To help with the grant application process, the Coffee County Commission approved a resolution on Nov. 14, designating Coffee County a “Broadband Ready Community.” Being such a community means the county has adopted an efficient and streamlined policy for reviewing applications and issuing permits related to broadband projects, according to www.tn.gov. As of Nov. 24, Coffee County, Hartsville/Trousdale County Metro Government and the City of Loretto are the only broadband ready communities in Tennessee.

Mike Birdwell, district operations manager for Ben Lomand, attended the meeting on Nov. 14 to present details to the commissioners and the public about the grant process.

“We are here to ask you to pass a resolution making Coffee County a broadband ready community,” Birdwell said.

The grant is available through the Tennessee Department of Economic Community Development, said Birdwell.

“This grant is going to be used in the Pocahontas area, and most of it is going to be east of Maple Springs Road,” Birdwell said. “These folks are in dire need of broadband. We went around, and we did a lot of legwork.”

Birdwell said many people share stories about their struggles related to not having broadband.

“We did a lot of door-to-door work,” Birdwell said. “We went to a house and a lady told us she works in Murfreesboro, she drives home, and, instead of cooking supper for her family, she loads her kids up and brings them to the library so they can do homework.”

Another family told Ben Lomand representatives they use broadband like a bank account, said Birdwell.

“They get so much data per day, so they don’t use it all up by the end of the month, and so that their kids can do their homework,” Birdwell said. “There is a real need in this area.”

Approving the resolution designating the county broadband ready, would increase the chances of getting the grant award, said Birdwell.

 

Broadband needed in today’s world

Coffee County Mayor Gary Cordell said broadband is critically important for residents and businesses.

“A family (living in the Pocahontas area was selling their house, and when they were closing, the buyer asked if they had broadband,” Cordell said. “They didn’t have it and the buyer walked away from the deal.”

Broadband through fiber optic, which is the way Ben Lomand will provide it, will have a positive economic impact, as well, according to Birdwell.

“If you have fiber optic at a house, your house increases in value anywhere from $4,000 to $7,000,” Birdwell said. “Today, broadband is what electricity was in the 1950s. There is a huge economic impact for residents and the county.”

According to www.broadband.gov, broadband includes several high-speed transmission technologies, such as Digital Subscriber Line (DSL), cable modem, wireless, satellite and Broadband over Powerlines (BPL) and fiber.

“It’s extremely difficult to get (broadband) over copper, or via satellite,” Birdwell said. “We have an active fiber network, (meaning) you have your own fiber, and you are not sharing bandwidth with anybody. And it’s one of the very few networks that is built like this in the United States. You can get up to a gigabyte. There are limits on copper and DSL. Their capabilities are very small compared to fiber.”

Another advantage of fiber is its longevity.

“Technology changes, but fiber should be good for about 30 years,” Birdwell said. “Once we get the infrastructure in place, the equipment may change on our end, but the fiber should be good for 30 years.”

Birdwell said 835,000 people in Tennessee don’t have access to broadband.

“The cost of bringing fiber to the premise of Tennesseans who don’t have it is $1.7 billion,” Birdwell said.

The grant focuses on the underserved areas in the state and provides $45 million over three years.

“There is a 50 percent match requirement, so Ben Lomand will spend $2 million also,” Birdwell said. “We have to have the best application in the state. There will be a lot of applications for $10 million only.”

The commissioners approved the resolution to designate Coffee County a broadband ready community.

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

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