Cumberland County Mayor Allen Foster has released the results of his broadband survey and says “the data clearly indicates we have a countywide problem.”
“Inadequate service stretches across all areas of the county, including parts of the city of Crossville, Fairfield Glade and Tansi,” Foster said in his broadband report released Sunday night.
Broadband internet is defined as internet with 25 megabytes per second download speed and 3 Mbps upload speed. Grant programs in recent years have attempted to spur deployment of the faster, more reliable internet to underserved areas. However, Foster says the maps used to determine eligibility for those grants are “flawed” and “create a barrier to successful provider applications.”
The maps are created using data provided by the companies and service providers, but the Federal Communications Commission doesn’t verify the accuracy of that information. In addition, the maps are based on census blocks, Foster explained.
“So if one household in the census block has adequate broadband service, the entire census block is marked as served with that speed,” he said.
Foster discussed the problem with the maps with regulators.
“They informed me they would accept alternate data that proved service did not meet what is indicated in the FCC 477 maps,” Foster said. “That is when I decided to do the online broadband survey.”
Foster launched the survey in March. He asked residents to submit the results of an internet speed test. About 1,500 households submitted results, which were plotted using geographic information system mapping. Of the respondents claiming service from Frontier, about 99% reported less than 25 Mbps download speed, 85% reported less than 10 Mbps, 52% reported less than 5 Mbps and 28% reported less than 3 Mbps download speeds.
“Speed tests rely on many factors and can sometimes be inaccurate,” Foster explained. “But the data received seemed very consistent among those choosing to respond.”
As Foster worked to compile the results of the survey, he also reached out to service providers to increase their interest in expanding service in Cumberland County.
He learned how important the grant programs are to making broadband expansion possible for providers.
“It can take $20,000 to $30,000 per mile or more to run fiber optic cable,” Foster said. “That cost is one reason that grant funding is needed. Without grant funding, we will continue to have poor service here in Cumberland County.”
Several providers are currently seeking grants to expand their service availability. Ben Lomand is seeking a USDA ReConnect grant to serve the eastern portion of Cumberland County near Crab Orchard. Ben Lomand and Bledsoe Telephone Cooperative are applying for broadband grants from the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development. The Ben Lomand project would serve approximately 1,500 homes north of Interstate 40 in the area of Hwy. 127. The Bledsoe Telephone Cooperative project would serve up to 836 homes in the Vandever/Breckenridge area of southern Cumberland County.
Foster said his home isn’t in any of the grant application areas, and he has no input on where providers choose to extend their service.
“We didn’t get into this situation overnight, and we won’t get out of it overnight,” he wrote. “But we finally have providers that are interested in expanding their services here!”
Grant funding is critical for the success of the projects, and Foster said the public can help as community involvement is part of the grant application process.
“If you received a survey in the mail, fill it out,” he wrote. “If there is a community meeting in your area, be sure to attend. Let’s work to get this problem fixed!”