The absence of the service for those residents has been an ongoing concern and County Mayor D. Gary Davis, along with executive assistant Lindsay Hathcock, told the Cleveland Daily Banner in April they were making every attempt to be proactive in trying to fill that gap.
Davis sits on the Southeast Tennessee Developmental District Board which recently held a regional meeting about the need for better access for broadband service to the region.
However, because of the sparse population in certain areas, major suppliers are not finding it economically feasible for them to wire those areas.
Joyce Colton, a resident of the southwest area, said her small business has been hindered by the lack of Internet access and asked the commission to consider passing a resolution to the Federal Communications Commission asking that EPB be allowed to cross its service boundaries in order to provide that service to her area.
“We can get satellite, but it doesn’t work very well,” Colton said.
She said a group has been formed because the major broadband providers “won’t come to us.”
“People have lost their jobs. A lot of people asked to work from home can’t do it. We have chicken farms that use it to run their alarm systems. They’ve lost several thousand dollars worth of chickens twice,” Colton said.
She said there are state laws that prohibit EPB from providing service outside of their electric service area.
“We tried to get those laws changed, but they were tabled,” she said.
Colton noted EPB has petitioned the FCC to go around the state law.
“Normally, I would think that would be terrible. But, we’ve gone without Internet for 15 years because of these state laws,” she said. “In an air of free enterprise, we’re being denied free enterprise.”
She said by having the commission petitioning EPB, it would give more weight to the request.
Her granddaughter, Kate Colton, also made a presentation, noting there are many students, especially college, who are finding the lack of access a problem in doing online course work.
“Once again, some of our citizens are the victims of laws with unintended consequences,” said Commissioner Ed Elkins.
He asked that Colton work with Hathcock and said he would support the commission “doing whatever we have to do to take care of the citizens of Bradley County if the providers of this service don’t want to because it’s not profitable.”
“If the EPB can provide it and make a profit out of it, so be it,” Elkins said.
Davis also reported to the commission he held a conversation with the regional Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation engineer responsible for processing septic tank permits concerning the recent recommendation of the Septic Tank Committee to utilize an employee of the planning department and allowing that person extra time to help with the paperwork involved.
“This septic tank problem we have in Bradley County comes from a state office,” Davis said. “It’s a state problem. I don’t know how many of you have talked to your state representatives or the governor, but the same state that brags about the lowest debt per person in the country is also the same state that has an office here in Bradley County that is understaffed and underfunded.”
He said despite that, what is on the table is “fixing their problem at Bradley County taxpayers’ expense.”
“There’s just something about that which rubs me against the grain as far as I’m concerned,” Davis said.
He said the committee came back with a recommendation “which is not very costly even though it is still fixing a state problem with local taxpayer dollars.”
He said the plan has already been put into place for the recommended 90-day trial that is believed will help eliminate some of the problems and delays that have occurred with that office.
“It’s basically adding an hour a day to that employee which we will address after 90 days and you can decide if the plan has worked,” Davis said.
Elkins proposed passing a resolution asking the state to address the lack of adequate staff and “put the state on record as refusing to do what’s right.”