In what was hailed as a big win for rural Bradley Countians, EPB officials laid out a plan Thursday night to reach the community with currently unavailable high-speed internet.
EPB CEO Harold DePrist told a capacity crowd at the Bradley County Courthouse that the expansion would serve roughly 1,000 people, about 800 of whom have no current option other than dial-up.
The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 last week to overrule Tennessee law and allow EPB to expand its fiber optic service.
Now, EPB is waiting on the exact wording of the ruling prior to seeking to work out legal and technical issues.
However, EPB is still restricted and unable to serve outside its elected service area due to current state laws in place, Mr. DePriest said. EPB will offer fiber optic service to the county if current legislation, Senate Bill 1134 or House Bill 1303, pass and allow any Internet provider to serve anyone in the state of Tennessee, he stated.
“We have people who live within half a mile of our service territory … who have nothing but dial-up, and that doesn’t make any sense” Mr. DePriest said. “In a lot of cases we can get to those areas fairly easily.”
Mr. DePriest is counting on state legislators to pass the bills and is confident it will happen relatively quickly. He has the backing of several key legislators who attended the meeting.
The legislation would remove territorial restrictions and provide the clearest path possible for EPB to serve customers and for customers to receive high-speed internet.
State Rep. Dan Howell, the former executive assistant to the county mayor of Bradley County, was in attendance and called broadband a “necessity” as he offered his full support to helping EPB, as did Tennessee State Senator Todd Gardenhire.
“We can finally get something done,” Senator Gardenhire said. “The major carriers, Charter, Comcast and AT&T, have an exclusive right to the area and they haven’t done anything about it.”
Rep. Howell and Mr. DePriest said they are unsure of exactly when the vote will take place, but Rep. Howell said it would be before the Tennessee legislators take a recess in mid-April.
Joyce Coltrin, a member of the group “Citizens Striving to be Part of the 21st Century, said, “I am hearing many legislators today talking about states’ rights and saying that the Federal Communications Commission has no right to go around state laws concerning the internet. I suggest that the logical extension of that thought would be that a state has no right to go around its commitment to the betterment of its citizens by denying access to the internet.”
Ms. Coltrin, Rep. Howell and Mr. DePriest and others urged those in Bradley County to write to their representatives in Nashville and tell them why they need high-speed internet.
President and CEO of Cleveland Utilities Ken Webb also spoke in support of EPB’s plan. “This is the most exciting thing that I know has come about in broadband in Cleveland and Bradley County in years, so we’re certainly behind this,” he said.
If the legislation is passed, EPB will move quickly, Mr. DePriest said. In four months, EPB would be able to start construction on the project. The eventual goal of EPB is to provide for all of Bradley County. For comparison, EPB covered 600 square miles with the fiber optic cables in two and half years in Hamilton County.
Mr. DePriest said EPB will not use taxpayer money. The project will cost $50 million-$60 million to cover the county and EPB will have to “raise some money,” he said.
“We paid for (the Hamilton County project) with our own resources, and it’s paying off quite well,” Mr. DePriest said.
He pointed out that in some of the most rural areas the company would be lucky to come out even, but EPB will still be able to conduct business in the county because it will still make an overall profit in Bradley County.
De-bundled internet packages from EPB range from $58 to $70, Mr. DePriest said amid cheers from the crowd. Many in attendance pay more than twice that amount for much slower service, they said.
For further information and questions about EPB and its potential service in Bradley County, the company will send information to those interested. To receive information, contact EPB.