By BRIAN GRAVES
By BRIAN GRAVESStaff WriterA select group of Volunteer Electric Cooperative customers should have broadband internet and other services supplied by fiber optic cable by Dec. 1, a move which could …
By BRIAN GRAVES
A select group of Volunteer Electric Cooperative customers should have broadband internet and other services supplied by fiber optic cable by Dec. 1, a move which could signal the beginning of the end of a long broadband drought for rural residents of Bradley County and other areas facing a lack of the access.
The recent move of the cooperative was discussed by state Sen. Mike Bell at the district meeting of the Tennessee County Commissioners Association Tuesday night in Cleveland.
Bell shared a correspondence from Tom Matthews of the Southeast Tennessee Citizens for Fiber Internet which confirmed VEC was preparing a pilot program to test the waters as to how much interest there would be for those services.
VEC qualifies to participate in the recent Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act, which provides $30 million in grants over a three-year period ($10 million per year) to broadband providers to encourage deployment to unserved homes and businesses.
The act was spearheaded in the state Senate by Bell, and has been a major focus for several years by state Reps. Dan Howell and Kevin Brooks who helped guide the bill through the state House of Representatives last year.
According to Matthews, approximately 200 homes near the VEC Hopewell substation, northwest of Cleveland, are included in the pilot program.
“VEC crews are preparing to string the main fiber optic lines in that area,” Matthews wrote. “VEC currently estimates the first customers will start receiving service around Dec. 1, 2017.”
Matthews wrote the service will be cobranded with the Twin Lakes Cooperative and that “gigabit services will be available.”
The percentage of homes purchasing the services in the pilot area will help determine the duration of the pilot program.
“If a very large percentage of the households subscribe to the services, then potentially the pilot program will show success sooner and the areas that can receive broadband service will expand,” Matthews wrote.
“I’m excited about this getting started and I hope the pilot is very successful and it shows that VEC can get into the broadband business and make the business model work,” Bell said.
Howell said this was the culmination of “several years’ worth of hard work.”
“I’m just thrilled we have come this far since the last legislative session when we got the act passed,” he said. “We now have a co-op saying, ‘This may be something we want to do.’”
“That makes it critical that people in this pilot program subscribe to make sure it’s a viable business plan for them,” Howell said. “If it is, they will serve the entire area which goes from Georgia to Kentucky.
The pilot program is scheduled to be discussed at the VEC Annual Meeting scheduled for Saturday beginning at 8 a.m. at the Meigs Middle School in Decatur.
Matthews added that calling the VEC offices in Cleveland to express an interest in the services will help to determine what areas have the most interest.
“I’m excited about this getting started and I hope the pilot is very successful and it shows that VEC can get into the broadband business and make the business model work." — State Sen. Mike Bell
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