Bradley Commission Votes 12-1 To Urge Legislature To Help Bring Public Utility Broadband To Bradley County

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Bradley County Commission voted 12-1 on Monday to urge the Legislature to pass a bill enabling public utilities, like EPB in Chattanooga or Cleveland Utilities, to bring broadband to Bradley County.

Current state law does not allow utilities to provide broadband outside their electric service territory.

EPB has undergone an aggressive broadband program furnishing both telephone, TV and Internet options. Thus far, it has proven very profitable.

EPB has expanded as far as Ooltewah and McDonald, and it wants to march on into Bradley County.

Cleveland Utilities has looked into the possibility of getting into the broadband business.

Vice Chairman Jeff Yarber cast the only no vote, saying he agreed that current service by AT&T and Charter Communications was inadequate but felt allowing government into the business was not the route to go.

He said local governments at one time had leverage over providers when they had to come to them periodically for charters, but he said that control went away with the passage of the current law that he said was heavily lobbied.

Other commissioners said the private providers receive hundreds of millions of dollars from the government in grants and tax abatements.

Commissioner Thomas Crye said a utility "is no longer a luxury." He said having affordable and reliable broadband service is a key factor when an industry is considering locating in a community.

Commissioner Dan Rawls said he generally is on the side of free enterprise, but he said Charter "has never fulfilled its obligations, and AT&T picks and chooses where it wants to go."

He said customer service by Charter "is appalling. If it is not the worst, then it is the second worst in the United States. I am adamantly against letting them keep their monopoly."

Commissioner Milan Blake said he works from home and is highly dependent on reliable Internet. He said his Charter service was out for a week recently. He said, "That is a killer for me."

Commissioner Mike Hughes said of the private firms, "They've had their chance, and they failed."

Blake Kitterman, president of the Bradley County Young Democrats, said it is "outrageous" that many schools in Bradley County do not have broadband access. 

He said, "The monopoly that is currently in effect is not working and is hurting our citizens."

Nick Townsend, director of IT at Jackson Manufacturing, said his firm is having to pay $7,500 monthly for the needed level of  Internet access. He said that could be cut to $350 by bringing in EPB.

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