Earlier this month, Tennessee announced $14.8 million in broadband accessibility grants to Tennessee communities.
Cumberland County was not on the list of recipients.
“I’m frustrated with that,” Cumberland County Mayor Allen Foster told the Chronicle.
The grants are awarded based on Federal Communications Commission service maps using data reported by internet providers.
“The providers are telling the FCC what service they’re offering,” he explained. “And if you have the required service of 10 megabytes per second in one address in a census block, the whole census block is considered to have broadband access.”
While broadband internet access is currently defined as 25 mbps download speeds, the FCC uses the 10 mbps standard for grant purposes.
“I believe our maps are inaccurate in Cumberland County, and they’re holding us back from receiving grants,” Foster said, adding he’d talked with the FCC multiple times about the issue. “There are such small pockets that are grant eligible, it’s making it difficult to get a grant.”
That’s why Foster launched his broadband internet survey, available through the county’s website at www.cumberlandcountytn.gov. He hopes to gather enough data to provide a more accurate depiction of the county’s internet access needs.
He can take that data and create a map showing the service residents and businesses are actually receiving.
“Hopefully we can use that to make us grant eligible,” he said, noting there is a process to refute map accuracy.
“People who have good service need to do the survey, as well. The more feedback and responses, the better the data will be.”
Internet connectivity is important to the county’s future growth and development, he said.
Residents have complained of slow internet speeds in many areas of the county and the inability to secure other service. Some residents say they have no wired internet options available at all.
“There’s so many places that don’t have a good ‘first choice,’” Foster said. “Counties all around us have fiber to the home. We deserve better options here, and there are some providers interested in expanding and offering that service.”
Foster has met with representatives of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, who told him the county was unique in Tennessee because of its internet access issues and grant eligibility.
“They know that we have an issue, and I’ve made sure to keep that in their ear,” he said.
He’s also met with most providers serving residents in Cumberland County.
“I’m trying to stress the need to expand and invest in Cumberland County. There are a lot of places that are not rural and don’t have good service,” Foster said.
He’s also spoken to Volunteer Energy Cooperative, which has a broadband program in other counties within their service area.
“We’ve got some things moving,” he said.