The time has come once again to pursue the issue of rural broadband availability.
Letter to the Editor
“Letters To The Editor” do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Jefferson County Post nor any of its employees. The Jefferson County Post does not underwrite any of the facts or situations mentioned in the letters.
Submitted by: David Seal, Jefferson County Commissioner District #9
My Fellow Citizens
The time has come once again to pursue the issue of rural broadband availability. The quality of our schools, businesses, and personal lives depend on the availability of affordable high speed internet service. At the present time, communications companies enjoy a virtual “legal monopoly” created by state law that favors the communications industry in its approach to “cherry picking” high density, high profit, areas of population, strictly limiting internet to rural, less population dense, areas. This restrictive set of conditions will persist until you, the voting public, decide to change it. Effort has been made across Tennessee to change it. However, the communications industry is willing to spend vast amounts of money in Nashville to maintain the status quo with state law favorable to their cause. To see evidence of this, you can visit http://followthemoney.org/ to look up contributions made to any elected official. The lobby expenses and employers of any registered lobbyist in Tennessee can be found at the Tennessee Ethics Commission at: https://apps.tn.gov/ilobby/
Last year, The Jefferson County Commission approved a resolution urging state legislators to amend state law to improve the availability of broadband to rural areas. It listed numerous reasons for doing so, and described the urgency for change. The Jefferson County School Board also formed such a resolution and highlighted, among other things, education as a major factor in making the resolution. During the last Tennessee General Assembly, Senator Janice Bowling (R) and Representative Kevin Brooks (R) entered proposed legislation that would permit local power utilities to engage in the business of internet distribution by servicing areas outside their area of operation. This is a logical approach because said utilities already have easements and access to the most remote areas of the state, a no-brainer, right? As soon as this legislation was proposed, the communications industry spent an obscene amount of money to defeat this permissive legislation. The bill was defeated in committee by one or two votes, guaranteeing that it could not be brought to the House and Senate floor for a vote, saving the remaining legislators the burden of casting a controversial vote on the floor of the Tennessee General Assembly. Figuratively speaking, a vote on broadband would have put legislators in a position of choosing between lobbyist with vast financial resources and the general public screaming for a desperately needed utility service. The public lost…again.
Our Governor is on record as saying that legislation proposed last year was “unfair” to the communications companies. He is expected to make statements and outline his new broadband policy at the commencement of this General Assembly Session. Until his policy is outlined, legislation is proposed, and action is taken, utility companies are at a loss for how to proceed. The rate-payer money that has been spent by utilities across the state on feasibility studies and market analysis is of little use until legislation is passed that will define who the players are, how they will interact, and how the rules of doing business are applied.
Here is what you can do to mitigate this situation. You can first decide if you are willing to settle for the status quo in which rural areas remain in the cyber stone age, a status in which our students are held back from academic progress related to slow, expensive, or non-existent internet service, our businesses struggle for communication efficiency, and our personal lives suffer for lack of affordable broadband service. The second option is to become active and insist on changes. Express to your state legislators, and to Governor Haslam, that changes to state law are needed that would make broadband more available to rural areas. A link to elected officials and their contact information can be found at:
I hope you choose to take an active approach and make some noise on this issue. Write letters, make phone calls, and become informed. The progress of our county, and many other rural counties, depends on your decision to participate.
Jefferson County Commission, District 9