Across Appalachia

Bringing Rural Areas Up to (Internet) Speed

Date: October 11, 2017

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By Otto Solberg

A Tennessee electric cooperative and a Kentucky municipal utility are working to bring high-speed broadband internet to rural customers who otherwise may not have the options that urban areas have.

The Tri-County Electric Cooperative has been planning to bring broadband internet access to rural Trousdale County, Tenn., since 2014. Tennessee law previously prevented electric cooperatives from providing internet services. But the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act, passed earlier this year, along with a $20 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and explicit permission from the county government has allowed Tri-County Electric to move forward with their Fiber-to-the-Home project.

The electric cooperative plans to bring affordable, fast and reliable internet access to a majority of the county within three years. Construction could begin in November, and residents that pay for the service could have it by the end of the year. Currently, residents can generally only receive six megabits per second download speeds and one mbps upload speeds, but the co-op’s base package should provide 50 mbps download and upload speeds.

A 2016 survey showed that 34 percent of rural Tennessee residents lacked broadband access, a service that is crucial to economic development and education. The Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act also started the Broadband Accessibility Grant Program to help rural areas that need financial assistance for broadband projects. The deadline for applications to the program is Nov. 17.

Other rural areas in Appalachia are also struggling to keep up with aging telecommunication infrastructure and are finding ways to bring high speed internet to their residents and businesses. Thanks to their municipally owned utility, Barbourville, Ky., residents have been offered cable television since the ‘50s and cable internet since the ‘90s, but that internet technology is now outdated.

This September, the Barbourville Utility Commission started construction to bring 4,000 Kentucky residents and businesses access to a gigabit fiber network that will provide 1,000 mbps download speeds. This is up to 1,000 times faster than existing speeds and shouldn’t be outdated anytime soon.

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