Plans for broadband internet in rural TN coming to fruition

12:03 AM, Jun 29, 2013   |    comments
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Broadband internet service is commonplace if you live in the city or suburbs, but it is still new vocabulary for millions who live out in the country.

"You would get on the internet, and it would take forever to get on," lifelong Scott County resident Ursula Sexton recalled living with just dial up services. "And if you have a particular site you'd get on to. You waited and waited."

Sexton is part of Highland Telephone Cooperative's efforts to get broadband installed for some 18,000 homes in Tennessee and Kentucky. The company received a $66 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to get high speed internet for rural areas. It is part of a nationwide effort to get people who live remotely connected to others.

For Highland, getting broadband increases internet speeds three-fold, according to CEO Mark Patterson.

"The grant is part of the broadband initiative program. It's part of the 'American Recovery Act. It's based on the FCC," Patterson said.

According to the organization Connected Tennessee, 1.5 million Tennesseans do not have broadband service. Scott, Claiborne, Campbell, Union, Monroe, Hancock, and Hawkins Counties have some of the lowest numbers of broadband service in the state.

Scott County commissioner Paul Strunk said having this speedy service does more than just connect people to Facebook.

"Today, broadband access is as important to industry as the implementation of telephone service in rural communities the 1950s. It's about connecting people," Strunk said.

Highland's project is expected to finish in the middle of 2015, when the grant will wrap up, according to Patterson.

However, rural residents said this reminds people that broadband is still a luxury for some.

"Sometimes I feel like we're a like we're a little behind on the times. I have people tell me, 'I can't believe you now just got high speed.'"

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