Rhea County Commissioners Express Concerns On Internet Service

  • Wednesday, February 21, 2024

In a lengthy session of the Rhea County Commission’s monthly meeting, Commissioners grilled both Bledsoe Telephone Company and Spring City Cable over the progress that they were making on installing fiber optics across Rhea County.

Commissioners had sent four questions to both companies that included:

In the original funded scope, how many unserved customers now have service in their service area because of the (ARP grants) provided funding. Is the original approved project completed? If not, what is remaining?

How many unserved customers do we now have in each service area?

What is the plan to get service to the remaining customers? What help is needed?

If you now have service in an area that also has Charter/Spectrum internet service, are you now allowing customers to use your service? If not, what is the plan?

Matt Boynton, engineering coordinator at Bledsoe Telephone Cooperative, was first up and faced the most intensive questions by the commissioners. He pointed out to the commissioners that so far to date, BTC has finished all contracted fiber optic routes and is in the process of constructing a central office building in the Dayton Industrial Park to house additional network equipment later this year. This will include a core router for Rhea County. He said that the new router would reduce the cost of Ethernet services in and around Dayton.

He added that so far, they have laid cable through 70 miles passing by 2,396 locations and provided service to 795 of these locations. He further said that they have serviced a large part of Walden’s Ridge all the way to Shut In Gap Road near Spring City.

After his explanation of what BTC has done, Commissioners started going back questioning some of the things that Mr. Boynton had said.

Eighth District Commissioner Nick Welch started by coming back to the first point that commissioners wanted to know.

“How many don’t have the capability that were pointed out in the maps,” he asked.

Mr. Boynton replied that it was hard to answer because “We are not in a position at this time to define that.”

Commissioner Welch asked if they had a plan to get those people served.

He said in his district there are several locations that have no service at all. Mr. Boynton pointed out that they have run fiber along Garrison Road and Old Highway 60.

He adde, “Don’t know if there is an opportunity to build access for these areas. We don’t know if the state will fund this.”

Commission Chairman Jim Reed said, “The entire project was based on maps that were not correct.”

He said the maps that the ARP grants were based on were far from accurate as to what was serviced and what was not.

Mr. Boynton said that they had to go out and physically define the areas that they have been working on to service. “All the grants were based on old maps and not the current ones.”

Commissioner Welch continued asking what Rhea County needed to do to help get service to the people of the county. He said, “We have to find out who in Rhea County can be served that isn’t by the providers working in the county and then work on getting funds to serve everyone. We still have a lot of people who aren’t served.”

Vice Chairman Leo Stephens pointed out the majority of the commission was under the impression that the grants that Rhea County had received were to serve everyone who wasn’t served. “I got whole areas out in Oak Hill that do not have service,” he said.

Chairman Reed added, “The area that was contracted out and the area that needed to be contracted were not one in the same. The state put out a second map and came up with the mysterious second set of grants. What they have done is they have bumped this whole project that we in Rhea County had worked so hard to be way ahead of everyone else.”

After both companies finished updating the Commission on their status, County Executive Jim Vincent summed up, “I’m not questioning the honesty or integrity of these companies. It is great. I have spent a lot of time over the past two years with them. I thought we had it put together perfectly. We didn’t get any good maps. I am proud of both of you. We have made both small cable companies a good success.”

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