Broadband

Since February of 2020, approximately $16,561,133 has been allocated to broadband projects that total approximately 8,000 new locations (homes, businesses) with current or future access in Cumberland County.  The following is an overview of broadband service and how we are moving toward better service here in Cumberland County.  I’m going to attempt to keep each section brief as we have discussed some of it already in my newsletters.


Broadband Background
During my campaign for Mayor, one theme seemed to be a constant.  Cumberland County has terrible broadband access.  All across the county, people asked for help getting access to broadband service.  In fact, very few areas had true broadband access (defined as 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speeds, or 25/3).  North, south, east, and west – even within the Crossville city limits, most households are served with inadequate internet services.

Although many households have internet access, the speed and reliability of the service often falls far short of broadband standards.  In looking to discover why Cumberland County has such poor access, I discovered a couple of reasons.  First, our local exchange carrier (LEC), the phone company, has not made substantial investments to improve service.  Second, the FCC maps used to designate grant eligible areas were terribly flawed.  This is due to the fact that providers submit service data to the FCC without any verification process.  There are other factors as well, but the FCC map problem alone prevented much of Cumberland County from being grant eligible.

These issues, along with consumer complaints, led me to conduct an online broadband survey.  Participants were instructed to test their speeds online via a webpage and to enter the results online using the survey form.  The data from that survey from approximately 1,500 households clearly indicates we have a county-wide problem.


Broadband Grant Eligibility
While working on the issues the issues that were holding us back, I talked with my contacts at the State and was told Cumberland County could be considered grant eligible if we could prove the FCC maps were incorrect. After much discussion, the State actually changed grant eligibility requirements to allow areas showing 25/3 service to apply, a game changer for Cumberland County.  Then, the application and supporting data could be used to show the 25/3 service was not actually being provided.  That is why it is important for you to respond to survey requests by providers that are working on grant applications every time you are asked.

That is also why the data from the broadband survey I conducted is important.  The results were eye opening for some.  The graph below indicates poor service across the county.  Speed tests rely on many factors and can sometimes be inaccurate, but the data received seemed very consistent among those choosing to respond.During this time, I began to meet with the providers in Cumberland County.  I talked to individuals at the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (TNECD), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), State and Federal Senators and Congressmen, as well as providers including Frontier, Volunteer Electric Cooperative (VEC), Ben Lomand (aka Vol First), Bledsoe Telephone Company (BTC), Charter, Comcast, and Twin Lakes.  I have even talked to the Tennessee Public Utility Commission (PUC) about the issues in our county.  Many of those discussions centered on how we can get better broadband service here.

The result is that five grant applications, one federal and four state, were submitted in 2020 with more later.


Broadband Grants Awarded
People often ask me why I’m not forcing providers to service to their home with broadband, or why their area is not in one of the grant areas.  The truth is, I have no input in the decisions of where the providers wish to extend service.  We didn’t get into this situation overnight, and we won’t get out of it overnight, but we finally have providers that are interested in expanding their services here! 


USDA Reconnect Grants – February and October 2020
Reconnect grants are specifically for very rural areas.  Although the number of households serviced are generally lower than the State grants, they provide much needed fiber infrastructure that can be used to build out other areas that are less rural. 

In February of 2020, Ben Lomand (aka VolFirst) received a USDA Reconnect grant for $2,240,407.  With matching funds of $746,803 that puts the total project cost invested in Cumberland County at $2,987,210.  This grant area covers approximately 100 square miles in Cumberland County.  A total of 222 homes and 561 people will have access to the new broadband services via the grant, but this is a win for even more households in Cumberland County as the build will put fiber infrastructure in place to allow Ben Lomand to provide service to many other customers after fulfilling the grant requirements.  The area covered is the light green in the map below.

The USDA announced in October 2020 that a Reconnect grant has been awarded to Ben Lomand, this time in southwestern Cumberland County.  The grant amount is $1,936,789 with matching funds from Ben Lomand in the amount of $645,596 for a total of $2,582,385.  The area covered is the dark green in the map below. This grant area includes 84 addresses and is 25.36 square miles.  Grant funding will be used to construct new state of the art Fiber to the Premises (FTTP) facilities. The new plant will include 73.5 miles of outside plant fiber, service drops, central office equipment, and customer premises equipment.  The dark green in the graphic is the area for this grant.  The light green is the area from the previous award that is discussed below.


State ECD Broadband Grant – April 2020
In April of 2020, Ben Lomand was awarded a State grant of $2 million to provide service in Cumberland County.  This is the project in the 127 North area that will provide access to approximately 1,500 locations including businesses and households.  The two grants and matches total $4,987,210 that will be spent by Ben Lomand to provide service in Cumberland County.

Orange line indicates the general area of the Ben Lomand state grant.


Cares Act Grant – December 2020
The third grant was received by VEC/Twin Lakes to provide service in the Cumberland Cove area.  The grant amount is $3,332,789.00.  Combined with a match of $833,197.25, the total project amount is $4,165,986.25.  Even though a good portion of this project, and of Cumberland Cove, is in Putnam County, this is great news.  This grant was made possible by new money that became available for COVID-19 relief.  That means the work must be completed by December 15, 2020.


RDOF Funding – February 2021
Speaker Sexton, Sen. Bailey, Mayor Foster announce $4.8 million in federal funds for broadband expansion in Cumberland County
Funding will enable Charter Spectrum to provide services to almost 6,000 unserved homes 

(NASHVILLE, Tenn.) – Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville)State Sen. Paul Bailey (R-Sparta) and Cumberland County Mayor Allen Foster today announced $4.8 million in federal funding for broadband expansion in Cumberland County.

These federal dollars are associated with the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF); it pairs federal resources with private investment to expand services in areas where broadband currently is unavailable. 

“This additional federal funding will build upon our body’s recent investment of more than $121 million across the state to enhance access to high-speed internet services up to one gigabyte for our citizens,” said Speaker Sexton. “Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, our families, schools, businesses and health providers have relied heavily on our existing broadband infrastructure. Charter’s commitment and partnership locally will help us all better address critical needs within our community through the enhanced services Charter is providing with this funding.”

This sizeable investment will enable Charter Communications to provide services to roughly 5,979 additional homes in the county. This new area accounts for nearly 20 percent of all households. 

“This is great news as we continue our efforts to get more broadband services into our rural communities,” said Sen. Bailey. “There has never been a more important time to improve connectivity than now.  Broadband is not only critical to create high quality jobs for our citizens, it is needed in homes for education, telemedicine, farming and other needs that improve the quality of life for families.  I am very excited that these homes will be connected and am looking forward to seeing many more new locations added in our district in the near future.”

Winning RDOF program bidders were selected, based upon pledging the most private investment to package with federal funding at the lowest cost to taxpayers. All total, Spectrum will receive $93 million in federal RDOF dollars, which will bring a total of 79,193 additional homes across our state online.

“In today’s world, access to reliable broadband is essential,” said Mayor Foster.  “The new RDOF funding is exciting news for Cumberland County.  The $4.8 million investment will help provide broadband access to almost 6,000 homes and businesses.  Since February of 2020, approximately $16,561,133 has been allocated to broadband projects here in Cumberland County.  We are making great progress thanks to these substantial investments in our community.”

For more information on the RDOF, please click below.  Enter Cumberland County TN or your address in the search bar to see the area covered.
https://www.fcc.gov/reports-research/maps/rdof-phase-i-dec-2020/

Click here for deployment information and timelines:
https://www.fcc.gov/auction/904/factsheet#deployment


Conclusion
More work is being done on grant applications as well as other projects to help provide better broadband in Cumberland County.  Be sure to follow my updates to get the news as it happens.

I have talked a lot from my perspective about the work to provide better broadband to Cumberland County, but I am not the only one working on this issue.  I want to thank Tennessee Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton and State Senator Paul Bailey for working hard on this issue and providing funding for state grant opportunities.  US Senator Marsha Blackburn, and US Congressman John Rose have strongly supported the efforts, and Cumberland County Commissioners are working to help as well.  It will take everyone working together to ensure Cumberland County gets the broadband service we deserve.

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