Rural Representatives Calling Out for Broadband and Local Net Choice

TN Farm Bureau

According to FCC Chairman Wheeler, 15 million Americans, primarily in rural communities, cannot access entry level broadband from home, and 41% of the nation’s rural schools lack a high speed connection. Most rural areas have no choice but to settle for the slow lane — internet on old, poorly maintained, twisted pair copper lines.

So it was good news this week that in Tennessee, the state’s most powerful voice for rural interests weighed in to support local internet choice. The Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation came out in  support for state legislation that would free up Chattanooga’s EPB and the state’s municipally owned utilities to offer gigabit broadband services outside their electric footprint.

“Our members are hungry to have broadband,” said Rhedonna Rose, executive vice president of the 600,000-member Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. “We represent a lot of Tennesseans in very rural areas of the state who are frustrated that they don’t have high-speed Internet.” According to Rose, just like urban areas, her rural community members need the ability to send and upload massive documents, x-rays and videos to conduct business.

State Senator Janice Bowling, (R-Tullahoma) and Rep. Kevin Brooks, (R-Cleveland), have sponsored SB 1134 and HB1303 to give municipal utilities the opportunity to expand high-speed broadband into small-town Tennessee, so no one’s economic or educational future is cut off because they chose to live in the beautiful countryside.

Communities should be allowed to decide service levels for themselves, said Joanne Hovis, CLIC CEO. “No one else should be able to decide what is enough for a local community — or whether they should be relegated to inferior infrastructure or services.” Saying that a community “doesn’t need fiber because it has DSL or wireless is like saying that the nation doesn’t need the Interstate highway system because we have the Santa Fe trail.”

Two weeks ago the FCC agreed, and ruled in favor of Chattanooga, TN and Wilson, NC petitions to remove state barriers to their expansion of Gigabit services into surrounding rural communities. On March 5, Chattanooga EPB quickly released its plans to expand into all of surrounding rural Bradley County. “We have people who live within half a mile of our service territory … who have nothing but dial-up, and that doesn’t make any sense” EPB’s Harold DePriest was quoted as saying.

This is “not a partisan issue,” wrote Lafayette’s Mayor Durel  to Wilson’s Mayor Rose last week. “It is about strengthening America, local self-reliance and the opportunity of our citizens to live in a community with all the same opportunities – for jobs, education, health care, public safety, and much more.”