Federal funding is helping with the expensive but much-needed process of increasing high-speed internet access in Warren and surrounding counties, with Warren Rural Electric Cooperative and two partner internet providers announcing last week that they are receiving about $2.3 million from the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.
That money will be used to help WRECC and partners North Central Telephone Cooperative of Lafayette, Tenn., and the Franklin Electric Plant Board reach 13,600 potential new customers in Warren, Simpson, Grayson and Edmonson counties who don’t now have access to high-speed internet.
WRECC and NCTC, which in 2019 started a partnership to bring broadband internet service to 800 residences in southeast Warren County, won a bid for RDOF funding to provide service in areas of east Warren County, across Grayson County, and some of Edmonson County.
“Providing high-speed internet in rural areas has been and continues to be an important issue nationwide,” said Dewayne McDonald, president and CEO of WRECC. “Fortunately, we have been able to develop a successful model with NCTC. Thanks to the RDOF funds, we are able to move more rapidly than we expected, and we’re delighted to be able to start our expansion into other parts of the Warren RECC territory immediately.”
Similarly, WRECC’s partnership with Franklin EPB continues a pilot project that started in 2019 and is bringing high-speed internet to 550 WRECC members in northeast Simpson County and a small group of members on the southeast side of Franklin.
The RDOF assistance allows the two companies to expand their collaboration to additional areas of the Warren RECC service territory in Simpson County and add about 250 members eligible to receive the high-speed service.
WRECC’s partnership with NCTC has the potential to reach thousands of new broadband customers and cover much of Grayson County.
“For years, we have struggled with high-speed internet and wireless coverage,” said Grayson County Judge-Executive Kevin Henderson. “We’ve developed a plan to cover as many Grayson County residents as possible.
“We’re looking forward to this project getting started.”
With the RDOF money in place, WRECC and NCTC are expected to move quickly.
According to a news release, the companies are currently installing in the Warren County expansion area and expect to be ready to sign up Grayson County members for service by the third quarter of 2021.
Plans for expansion in Edmonson County will be announced as they are developed, the news release said. NCTC will contact residents as soon as service is available.
Although the RDOF funding will allow WRECC to reach a broad area, the cooperative didn’t win all the areas it was bidding for in the FCC auction.
Charter Communications, which operates in Warren County as Spectrum cable television, phone and internet service provider, is using $1.2 million in RDOF money to expand its broadband service in the county.
Spectrum’s current service area is limited largely to the urbanized part of the county. The expansion will reach about 1,588 more homes in rural areas.
Charter Senior Director of Government Affairs Jason Keller gave in February a presentation about the high-speed internet expansion to Warren Fiscal Court. His presentation included a map that showed service being extended to the Anna community and areas around Bristow, Hadley and Woodburn.
“For the areas we didn’t win,” McDonald said in a news release, “we hope the companies that did win them will live up to their commitment to serve our members with the same quality and service offered by Warren RECC and NCTC.”
NCTC, which signed in 2017 a franchise agreement to provide internet and cable television service in Warren County, began by running connections to the Drakes Ridge subdivision and other areas along the Scottsville Road corridor. In order to provide service to the rural areas of the Alvaton and Boyce communities included in the 2019 partnership, NCTC piggybacked off fiber-optic cable laid by WRECC.
The partnership, which has received a $300,000 boost from Warren Fiscal Court, has been successful, according to WRECC Senior Director of Communications and Public Relations Kim Phelps.
“We have reached over 1,700 of our members, and that number increases each day,” Phelps said in an email.
Phelps said more than 50% of residents eligible for the service have been taking it so far.
“That is a good take rate and occurs almost instantly as we make the service available to our members,” she said. “The take rate in areas where the service has been available continues to rise as members get out of contracts for DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) or wireless services that do not provide adequate internet speeds.”
Both NCTC and Spectrum are offering speeds of up to 1,000 megabits per second, or gigabit service.