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FLEC Gets Funds to Help Expand Broadband

8/31/2020

For the last five years, Fort Loudoun Electric Cooperative (FLEC) has worked with local/state governmental leaders, regional internet providers, and its membership to assess and improve the broadband (internet) options available for its service territory.  Areas lacking service or underserved have been identified through membership surveying, feasibility studies conducted, and analysis of FCC and carrier data shared. 

“FLEC works with all the major carriers in its service area (AT&T, Charter-Spectrum, Comcast, and TDS) and these companies lease infrastructure space from the Cooperative to provide services to parts of our electric system,” Jarrod Brackett, FLEC’s general manager advised.    “The Cooperative has seen these companies invest their time, capital, and resources over the years into the area and make broadband options available to several areas.  The Cooperative is appreciative of all those companies that have agreed to promote a better quality of life through these endeavors.  Annually the Cooperative uses the funds from the lease agreements with area communications companies to fund budgeted needs and keep the electric rates low.”

The State of Tennessee has been very effective at assisting communities across Tennessee to expand broadband options through legislative actions and funding over the past three (3) years.  These actions have assisted broadband companies and various partnerships formed with local utilities to promote infrastructure improvements that promote the spread of broadband options to more Tennesseans.  At the first of August, the State launched the Tennessee Emergency Broadband Fund (TEBF) through the Tennessee Department of Economic Development to use some of the Cares Act funding received from the federal government to assist with broadband expansion into areas not served.  The State received 81 applications for TEBF grants, for a total of approximately $89 million in assistance requests.  Tennessee assisted in funding approximately $60 million of these requests, contingent on them being completed by the end of the year.  With its Board of Directors approval, FLEC and BreezeAir Networks (a local internet service provider) proposed six (6) projects for consideration.  The Cooperative received notice recently that it had received approval for five (5) of the projects proposed (amounting to just over $400,000 in grants).  These projects are located in Blount, Loudon, and Monroe Counties within the FLEC service area.  The rural broadband projects funded are in parts of Greenback (in Loudon County), along Friendsville Road (in Loudon County), Marble Hill and Meadow Roads (in Blount County), and in parts of the Chilhowee Community (in Monroe and Blount Counties).  Through these projects, 390 homes and businesses will have a high-speed broadband option made available for the first time.  Shirley Hall, a board representative for members in parts of Blount and Loudon Counties, voiced her excitement of the news.  “We are so pleased that the State assisted us.  Through this, the Cooperative can be a part in helping to provide broadband to our area faster… our people will use this service to assist their children with school work and gain access to telemedicine options during this pandemic and afterward.” 

FLEC has been working through established leasing agreements with BreezeAir Networks and AirHawk Wireless (two local internet service providers (ISPs)) for the past couple of years to determine ways to improve the broadband services available within the Cooperative’s service area.  “Through using FLEC’s fiber optic communications network and its vertical infrastructures (poles and towers), these local companies have worked with our employees and found ways to help FLEC with its communication needs and provide our members with more broadband options.  Together, the Cooperative and these companies have been able to find ways to provide services to areas not served,” Mike Wiggins, chairman of the Cooperative’s broadband committee advised.  Earlier this summer, these partnerships have resulted in FLEC’s board approving infrastructure upgrades in the Madisonville, Vonore, and Maryville areas served by the Cooperative that will provide opportunities of services to hundreds more homes and businesses.  “Each time we up-size a pole or put in more fiber for normal Cooperative uses… it creates opportunities for the Cooperative to better serve its Membership in the future… this has proven to be the case with the partnership formed with these broadband providers.  They can take what we have done to help keep the lights on and use it as a pathway to provide our members internet.  It is a win-win situation when you can find a way to better serve others and help maintain your investment too,” Jon Grubb stated following the recent monthly Board of Directors meeting.  

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