Fire station used hot spots, "welcome back to 1997" DSL before rural broadband initiative

Fire station used hot spots, "welcome back to 1997" DSL before rural broadband initiative

PHOTO: Middle Tennessee Electric president and CEO, Chris Jones, unveils the partnership with United Communications at the Peytonsville Voluneteer Fire Department in Thompson’s Station on Friday./ / Photo by Alexander Willis



Williamson County will see significant expansions to broadband Internet access in its underserved areas thanks to a new partnership between Middle Tennessee Electric and United Communications.

Announced at the Peytonsville Volunteer Fire Department in Thompson’s Station on Friday, the new partnership will roll out its broadband expansions in the coming months and years across 7 counties in Middle Tennessee.

PHOTO: President and CEO of United Communications, William Bradford (Right), shakes hands celebrating the new partnership / Photo by Alexander Willis

“Today is day one of a multi-year effort to expand broadband to the seven counties that we collectively serve,” said William Bradford, president and CEO of United Communications. “We believe that there are hundreds of communities that can be transformed by the power of investment in broadband, and will bridge the digital divide.”

The location of the announcement did bear some significance – the Peytonsville Volunteer Fire Department is, officially, the first broadband expansion project to be completed under the new partnership. The fire department had reached out to United Communications after having exhausted their options to procure adequate connectability over the years.

Fire Lieutenant Fritz Haimberger with Williamson Fire Rescue said the Peytonsville Station had been without broadband access since he moved to Thompson’s Station in 2013, and that its posed serious problems.

“We were forced to either accept 768 DSL service, so welcome back to 1997, or what we ended up doing was we went with Verizon, but the data caps were obviously there,” Haimberger said. “It was a significant issue.”

Haimberger said he reached out to multiple internet service providers to no avail, until finally reaching out to United Communications in 2014.

“This fire station, Station 28, just a few miles from Franklin – no broadband,” Bradford said. “They tried running it off of a wireless hotspot, they tried everything possible. The truth is, there’s neighborhoods surrounding this – the same thing – people that have moved here from out of town, moved here from the city, and they never realized there was no broadband. We were so lucky [Williamson Fire Rescue] came to our office and said, ‘hey United, would you consider expanding your service here,’ and it’s just been a great partnership.”

The Peytonsville Station now has access to gigabit speed fiber after requesting improvements for more than 17 years, with Haimberger saying the connectivity will lead to significant safety and communication improvements.

“To be able to respond more quickly to calls, is going to be a huge difference. I’ve seen probably a 50 to 75 percent increase in the amount of people that are down here on a regular basis because of that connectivity.”

President and CEO of Middle Tennessee Electric, Chris Jones, spoke about the ongoing issues communities face with poor or no broadband connectivity, which he called the ‘digital divide.’

“We’ve heard it over and over again, and loud and clear from our members,” Jones said. “Our children can’t do their homework at night. People who want to work from home who can’t. Small, home-based businesses that operate in addition with all the costs of a lack of access to broadband. Well, we are about to change that.”

Electric cooperatives were restricted from providing retail broadband services before the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act was passed in 2017.

The act provides $45 million over three years through grants and tax credits that focus on the state’s unserved and underserved areas, which according to Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development were about 34 percent of the state.

In addition to allowing electrical cooperatives to provide broadband, the act establishes the “Broadband Accessibility Grant Program,” providing $30 million over a three-year period ($10 million per year) to broadband providers to encourage deployment to unserved homes and businesses, and tax credits of $5 million per year for three years for private broadband service providers who build in Tennessee’s most economically challenged counties.

Jones also said those interested in seeing expanded broadband access in their own communities can visit to contact United Communications directly.

Middle Tennessee Electric is the largest electric cooperative in the state, and currently provides electricity to more than 220,000 residential and business members across four counties in Middle Tennessee, including Williamson County. Being a cooperative means the company is not-for-profit, and is run by, and for the communities of Middle Tennessee.

United Communications is a leading provider of internet, digital TV, and phone services for residential and business customers in Middle Tennessee, and already has miles of fiber network connections throughout the Middle Tennessee area.

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