United

The Franklin County Commission is fielding input on it would take to provide fiber-optic internet service to underserved areas.

Jeff Davidson, United Communications broadband ambassador, and William Bradford, United Communication president and CEO, addressed the commission at its Oct. 21 meeting about how the company has offered service to 400 residences in the Estill Springs area.

Davidson said his company has a fiber-optics transmission line extending from Nashville to Huntsville, Alabama, through Franklin County and is attempting to serve rural parts of Franklin County. He said United offers 1 gigabit service, which is among the fastest internet speeds in the nation.

Davidson and Bradford said United strives to connect to customers in underserved areas because they are often overlooked by other internet providers that avoid isolated locations because of limited profit margins.

 Several commissioners said Franklin County needs more internet options because limited service has left underserved residents at a disadvantage, and industrial recruitment opportunities are negatively impacted because the highest available speeds are not easily offered.

Commissioner Adam Casey said some residents have had difficulty getting the internet service they want.

“I can’t get internet, and I’m a third of a mile away from Walmart,” he said.

Commissioner Greg King said having fiber-optic service would be a great industrial recruitment tool and would aid Franklin County in attracting new industries.

Davidson and Bradford said United has partnered with Middle Tennessee Electric which serves Cannon, Rutherford, Williamson, and Wilson counties to offer fiber-optic service to the utility’s customers.

They said they would like to see if a similar partnership could be developed in Franklin County.

Commissioners agreed the issue needs to be researched further to see what the best options are for Franklin County residents and businesses.

Davidson recently addressed the commission’s Information Technology Committee which agreed to have him and Bradford address the full commission.

Committee members had said that with United expanding into Estill Springs, the Rock Creek and North Lake elementary schools could potentially be linked to the fiber-optics network as a template for other county entities.

They agreed that a goal will be to see what federal grant opportunities might be available to help defray infrastructure-installation costs.

Commissioner Sam Hiles, a committee member, said he has had problems with his current provider and has had to temporarily cease some operations with his company, Burl’s Termite & Pest Control, when internet service goes down.

He said other businesses and residents share the same sentiments about wanting other options that would provide more dependable service.

Commissioner Helen Stapleton, who chairs the committee, said Sewanee has been developing a partnership with Duck River Electric Membership Corp. and Ben Lomand Connect to provide fiber-optic internet service in that area, and the prospects have been most welcome.

Committee members said parts of Franklin County are very isolated, and residents in those areas have very limited internet service options. They said that adding fiber-optic service would be a great benefit to them.

The committee recently went on the record in support of Ben Lomand Connect’s move to provide high-speed internet service to the Alto community.

The committee, including Stapleton and members Don Cofer, Johnny Hughes, Hiles and Greg King, signed a letter that was forwarded to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue in Washington, D.C., to let the U.S. Department of Agriculture know how important the upgrade would be to the residents in a rural section of Franklin County.

Ben Lomand asked the county for its support to help in its quest to get a USDA Community Connect grant to help defray infrastructure expenses.

Chris Centracchio, Ben Lomand IT services manager, had told the committee that internet service in some rural Franklin County areas is severely lacking with signal speeds at a fraction of what is offered in the more urban sections with fiber-optic infrastructure.

He had said getting a grant would help Ben Lomand’s effort to serve the area.

Centracchio said providing service to rural areas can be cost-prohibitive. He used an example where an internet provider may only have a few customers on a mile-long section of fiber-optic line which would make it impossible to amortize the cost of the investment.

Stapleton had said Ben Lomand would be continuing what it has done in the Sherwood and Jump Off Road areas where it has received grant funds to provide internet-infrastructure upgrades.

The Franklin County Commission approved a resolution supporting Ben Lomand’s effort to pursue grant funds.