Next Generation Fiber Optic Broadband – Now, It’s All Up to YOU

Next Generation Fiber Optic Broadband – Now, It’s All Up to YOU

A $3.5M grant to bring next generation fiber optic broadband to the Sharps Chapel Community of Union County was submitted by Sunset Digital Communications to the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Grant Program. The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (TNECD) will announce the grant recipients in March 2019. A public comment period on all grants submitted begins on 28 November and ends on 20 December. YOU can help!

This is the largest grant application on behalf of Union County citizens ever submitted and is the first step in bringing next generation Fiber Optic Broadband to all of Union County. TNECD will post a description of the applications received including the proposed service areas at https://www.tn.gov/ecd/rural-development/tennessee-broadband-grant-initi.... From November 28 to December 20, comments may be submitted online in regards to these pending applications. Public comments will significantly impact the proposals score and funding. Almost half of the 200 points used to score proposals under this grant program are determined by community support.

In anticipation of the grant being funded, residents in Sharps Chapel will need to let Sunset Digital Communications know that they are interested in service by filling out a residential sign-up form at https://www.sunset-fiber.com/residential/sign-up/. This is not a commitment or a contract with Sunset Digital, it only shows you’re interested in being contacted if and when Sunset Digital receives grant funding to begin work in the Sharps Chapel community.

What needs to be done now? Individuals in Sharps Chapel will need to do two things. First, those with terrestrial internet need to document their current access speed at http://www.speedtest.net/. The speed test will record your current “Ping”, “Download”, and “Upload Speeds”. This information will need to be provided as part of your public comment to validate the request for grant funds to bring Sunset Digital’s next generation fiber optic broadband network to your home or business in Sharps Chapel. You can find the link to the TNECD Public Comment Portal at this URL https://www.tn.gov/ecd/rural-development/tennessee-broadband-grant-initi....

This grassroots effort is required, as the maps being used to determine eligible areas for grant funding are built using data from current service providers and many times do not reflect the actual service being provided at the home or business. Importantly, in order for an area to be considered served, service at or exceeding 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload must be available to ALL residential customers in the defined area.

Many Union County individuals, businesses, homeowners associations and government bodies have brought us to this point. Union County is the only county in Tennessee to have Broadband Ready Community Resolutions unanimously passed by the county’s governing body and each county municipality, Maynardville, Plainview and Luttrell. Union County citizens have submitted hundreds of support letters, e-mails and requests for service to TNECD and Sunset Digital Communications. Union County businesses, homeowners associations, and individuals along with the Union County Business and Professional Association have made commitments of matching funds to Sunset Digital Communications should the grant be approved by TNECD. Letters of support for this grant were also submitted by the Knoxville Utilities Board and Powell Valley Electric Cooperative.

This unprecedented outpouring of support is a result of the desire and recognition that there is no greater need for next generation fiber optic broadband in Tennessee than in rural Union County. County residents also recognize that Sunset Digital is hard at work in Claiborne and Hancock County, and individuals in those counties have uniformly expressed their overwhelming satisfaction with the service provided by Sunset Digital’s next generation fiber to home/business broadband network. Without this state grant funding support, there is little hope that next generation fiber optic broadband will be deployed in our County anytime soon. Existing dated DSL networks in the Sharps Chapel Community are beyond capacity and new residents in certain areas are without options for terrestrial broadband service. Many residents have no options at all for terrestrial broadband, as current providers limit service to areas of higher population density.

To aid community residents, the Union County Business & Professional Association will post this article on the Association’s Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/UCBPA/, and answer any questions that individuals may have. The Union County Chamber of Commerce is doing the same on their page, https://www.facebook.com/UnionCountyTnChamberOfCommerce/. You can like and follow these Facebook pages to stay current on the progress of the grant and get answers to any questions you may have. Help is also available at the Sharps Chapel Book Station for residents with no current service or questions on how to do the speed test or enter information at the TNECD Portal.

If we work together, we can bridge the digital divide in Union County.

Check your broadband connection at www.speedtest.net

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Rick Riddle's picture

Tag or e-mail this article to 10 friends in Union County - you can make a difference.

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