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Roundtable discussion centered on high-speed internet, Charter Spectrum broadband grant

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CHARTER ROUNDTABLE – Community members packed the house at the Tea Room in downtown Huntingdon Thursday to ask questions and listen to updates regarding a 4,600-home, high-speed internet project in Carroll County as part of a $6.7 million grant Charter received to expand access to broadband in the county. On hand for the roundtable discussion were (from left) Carroll County Chamber of Commerce President Brad Hurley, Tennessee Economic and Community Development Broadband Director Taylre Beaty, Spectrum Government Affairs Director Zach Bates, State Sen. John Stevens, Huntingdon Special School District Director of Schools Jonathan Kee and State Representative Tandy Darby.

sabrinaBATES

MVP Regional News Editor

Carroll County officials and members of Charter Spectrum’s corporate team addressed a packed house at the Tea Room on the Court Square in Huntingdon Thursday afternoon following an announcement that Charter would use some grant funding to expand broadband internet to residents.

Carroll County Mayor Joseph Butler introduced a panel of speakers that would highlight the importance of the high-speed internet project and what it would mean for the region. Forum speakers included Carroll County Chamber of Commerce President Brad Hurley, Tennessee Economic and Community Development Broadband Program Director Taylre Beaty, Spectrum Government Affairs Director Zach Bates, State Senator John Stevens, Huntingdon Special School District Director of Schools Dr. Jonathan Kee and State Representative Tandy Darby.

SENIOR CENTER DONATION (OFFICE ON AGING) – Carroll County officials accepted a $5,000 donation from Charter Spectrum on behalf of the county’s senior center (Office on Aging) Thursday afternoon in downtown Huntingdon. The donation is to help the senior center expand its computer lab. On hand for the donation were (from left) Carroll County Chamber of Commerce President Brad Hurley, Tennessee Economic and Community Development Broadband Director Taylre Beaty, State Sen. John Stevens, Spectrum Government Affairs Director Zach Bates, State Rep. Tandy Darby and Carroll County Mayor Joseph Butler.

Butler applauded the efforts of local county commissioners for “sticking their necks out” and “making expansion of broadband internet a priority.” He emphasized the project is truly a public-private partnership.

Under the expansion, 4,600 homes in Carroll County will be able to access Charter’s high-speed internet within the next three years thanks to a nearly $7 million grant for build out in Carroll County. Bates explained the project may see some supply-chain and labor issues, but the goal is to finish it out within three years. 

Beaty explained it takes a community effort and the need for high-speed internet infrastructure has grown from $20 million funded in state in 2018 to more than $500 million. She said contracts between the state and Charter are being prepared, but Charter can begin the build out. The grant is a reimbursable program. Charter will undertake the project and send invoices to the state for reimbursement.

Working with the Carroll County Electric System allows Charter to utilize existing poles to build out fiber internet lines above ground. Bates said working with pole owners on the front end of such a project is key to securing funding and getting to work quickly. He said it is hard to connect to rural areas as some roads may only be home to one residence. He explained it is uncertain if Charter will see an immediate return on investment, but they will continue with build outs and hope customers sign on for the service. Charter does not make their customers sign contracts for internet service and the company currently offers a low-cost package with a $30 off voucher for eligible families. The $30 voucher program is only temporary and there is no certainty as to when it will expire.

Hurley said the build out is better for businesses as they will have options to high-speed internet that is affordable. Broadband has become a basic necessity and plays a major role from small businesses to larger corporations, Hurley shared.

Darby talked about how access to broadband internet is key for rural farmers. He said chicken farmers use connectivity to monitor barns housing hundreds of thousands of chickens. 

“Just because you live in a rural area doesn’t mean you should get left out. Broadband infrastructure is something for every taxpayer to share,” Sen. Stevens noted. The Tennessee General Assembly passed a bill allowing sales tax exemptions for supplies used for high-speed internet projects. 

Dr. Kee explained when the COVID pandemic hit the region, the school system saw the challenges students and staff faced when moving to online programs. Kee said it seemed more challenging for staff who couldn’t connect to programs at home due to internet issues. Although the pandemic came with its set of challenges, the system saw the good that came out of using game-changing technology. 

Charter offers a mapping program for potential customers wanting to know if their homes will fall into the areas eventually served with high-speed internet. Visit fcc.gov/acp and SpectrumInternetAssist.net for more information. Mayor Butler’s office is also offering mapping assistance for residents to determine if they will be included in the high-speed internet build out.

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