Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
hamilton county tn
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Bradley County is the neighbor that time forgot in Tennessee. It sits adjacent to Hamilton County and just a short trek from Chattanooga’s EPB Fiber Optics, but state law forbids the utility from serving residents and businesses there. The Cleveland Daily Banner has followed the broadband struggles in Bradley County and ranked the “Battle for broadband” in the top 10 Newsmakers for 2016.
And So They Wait...And Wait...And Wait
“There are constituents in my district that have waited 20 years [for broadband access],” state Rep. Dan Howell said in February. “What if you had to wait 20 years to get electricity even when they had it next door? That’s what broadband is today.”
The editors and staff writers of the Daily Banner chose the Top 10 and in a recent article described how the fight started years ago and continues today. They review the FCC’s 2015 ruling that preempted state laws preventing EPB expansion into Bradley County and elsewhere and how the 6th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals reversed the decision, which crushed locals’ high hopes.
Bradley County residents have not given up, however. They’ve met with outgoing FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and have pressed state lawmakers to remove the barrier that keeps them in the last century. A state bill, introduced by Rep. Kevin Brooks, could not get past the House Business and Utilities subcommittee, but the people in Bradley County press on because they have no other option.
And Wait Some More
Their experiences have left them a little jaded; when AT&T announced in August that it would begin serving parts of Bradley County with Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH), state legislators working on the issue scoffed. They’ll believe it when they see it; us too.
Just this past week, we reported on the plight of Bradley County in Tennessee. Cut off from connectivity, families and businesses are considering leaving to nearby Hamilton County which has Chattanooga’s high-speed fiber network.
By a 12-1 vote, the Bradley County Commission urged the Tennessee legislature to pass a bill (Tennessee HB 1303/SB 1134) enabling public utilities to bring high-speed Internet to Bradley County residents. Current state law - right now embroiled in legal disputes - prohibits public utilities from expanding high-speed Internet access.
Near-Unanimous Vote (12-1)
As reported in the Chattanoogan, the only naysayer to the resolution was the vice-chairman. He agreed that Charter and AT&T had failed to provide adequate Internet access to the county, but he expressed opposition to municipal networks. Although disagreeing with the resolution, he underscored how local control had disappeared with the current state law:
He said local governments at one time had leverage over providers when they had to come to them periodically for charters, but he said that control went away with the passage of the current law that he said was heavily lobbied.
The commissioners, however, felt that this vote was the only way forward. Some described how dependent their homes and businesses have become on Internet access, and others reiterated that the community suffered die to the lack of competition.
An Engaged Public Speaks Out
According to the Cleveland Daily Banner, the meeting attracted enough residents to pack the room. The people of Bradley County see the importance of better access in their future. Blake Kitterman, president of the Bradley County Young Democrats, told the Commission:
“When Bradley County citizens succeed, we all succeed, and EPB broadband expansion means an interconnected community…It means opportunities for businesses to affordably advertise their products, and students to be able to take part in higher forms of learning.”
Sandi Wallis, a resident of northern Bradley County in Tennessee, doesn’t simply want to have ultra-fast, reliable broadband access for the fun of it. She needs it to run her home business. Her school-age children need it too:
“I've had to send my kids into town to do their homework. We’ve had to go into town with our business laptops to download updates to our programs for our accounting business because we can’t do it at home. We need service — not just reliable service and not just for entertainment.”
Wallis made the comments at a recent meeting hosted by the Bradley County Chamber of Commerce in Tennessee. The meeting focused on a persistent problem in many parts of Bradley County - residents and businesses lack the fast, affordable, reliable, broadband access that is available via Chattanooga’s EPB fiber network in neighboring Hamilton County. The deficiency is taking its toll.
Cleveland, a city of about 43,000 in Bradley County, has explored the idea of building their own community broadband network. But business leaders, government officials, and residents across Bradley County and the State of Tennessee are all anxiously awaiting the results of the ongoing legal struggle over the state’s anti-muni law. In addition, a bill set for consideration at the next state legislative session would, if passed, allow municipalities like Chattanooga to expand their existing fiber broadband services to adjacent communities in Bradley County.
Don’t Mind the Gaps
Alan Hill, a representative from AT&T, suggested that rather than focusing on the broadband service gaps in the state, Bradley County should acknowledge AT&T’s positive contributions in the area:
The lawsuit claims that, since at least July 2001, AT&T has filed monthly and annual reports listing fewer business phone lines than they actually provide. Under Tennessee law, phone companies must pay $3 per month per line to pay for 911 access. ... In a March phone service bid proposal for Hamilton County, AT&T stated it would not collect the $3 rate and instead collect $2 per line per month. That allowed the company to underbid the next lowest bidder by 69 cents per line per month, “unlawfully increasing its profits at the expense of revenue to support the critical emergency services that” 911 provided, according to court records.A difference of $.69 may not seem like much, until you consider they may be providing 1,000 lines - which is a difference of $690/month or $8,280/year. It is an incredible racket. AT&T gets more high-margin customers, pays less in fees than competitors, and the only people who get hurt are those who depend on 9-11. Just when you think AT&T is brilliantly evil (an accusation I tend not to make against many corporations no matter how much I disapprove of their practices), you have to consider how incredibly incompetent they are.