by Pettus Read
I consider myself as one who enjoys talking about the old days, but really appreciates my modern conveniences. I've lived without running water, indoor plumbing, air conditioning, heat in every room and other things we take for granted these days. I've done it and would not enjoy going back. I would miss my Facebook, 125-plus channel TV, central heat and air, computers, microwave and other things that I enjoy on a regular basis. But, even with all of these wonderful modern day inventions, I'm still one of those who lives in an area of this great state that is behind the times.
I really didn't know it until the other day when I opened my mailbox and had a letter from the county's area cable company telling me about how my cable subscription was outdated and I needed to upgrade to their new super system. It had all kinds of movies, public service channels, viewing on demand and internet service so fast that it would go to a website almost as fast as you could think of it. Plus, they would lower my monthly charges for the first six months so that it would only cost me pennies a day to upgrade.
It sounded like a great offer and I looked at the envelope one more time to see if it was really mailed to me, and sure enough, it was. There was one problem though. I don't have cable and cable has never been made available to anyone who lives on our county road. I would like to have fast Internet, but unless the cable company knows something I don't know, I think all I'm going to receive is the envelope currently lying on my kitchen table.
You see, our farm is located only fifteen miles from Murfreesboro, which just happens to be one of the fastest growing areas in this state, and for awhile, this nation. I moved back to the family farm in 1998, and as soon as we made the move, asked for cable to be placed on the farm. Knowing that the service was only one half mile from our house, I assumed that it easily would be made available. However, that was not the case. After my first call and two weeks of waiting for a survey to be made checking out the possibilities of getting the service, I received a call telling me they had good news. The cable company told me that they could hook me up for only a mere $8,000. In fact, it would cost some bit more than that, but after that quote, it was not going to happen anyway. I, instead, put up an antenna, forgot about Internet and lived as I had before leaving the farm some 25 years earlier.
Waiting another 6 years, I tried again. Once again, the cable company, who had gotten the other company's contract from the county since the last time I tried to go global, gave me the same story. Trying not to be out-done, I put in satellite for the TV and contacted my phone company to get Internet. Yet again, I found out how communication-illiterate my farm was. There was no DSL line near my house, so I had to settle for dial-up. And by the way, they thanked me for upgrading my phone service and being a faithful customer.
What they didn't know, but should have, was that I was becoming a disgruntled rural customer like many folks in the rural parts of this state. Today, I still have satellite TV to watch my westerns on and my Internet is accomplished by a cell phone hot spot. Rural Tennessee has made large improvements in affordable broadband coverage, but it needs more! Why is it so important to rural Tennessee? The Tennessee Broadband Task Force several years ago answered that question. They said, "Broadband expansion is to the 21st century what rural electrification was to the 20th century. High-speed Internet access is critically important to Tennessee's future, especially in jobs, education and healthcare." Rural electrification changed rural Tennessee from kerosene lamps to electric lights and generated billions of dollars to our state's economy. Just like affordable electricity helped rural Tennessee, the current efforts to bring affordable broadband into the outer areas of our counties has placed at the fingertips of rural Tennesseans a much needed economic impact, along with jobs that have helped during difficult times over the last few years. But, more must be done.
Today, Connected Tennessee, which is an independent non-profit organization, is the only group that monitors rural areas of this state connected by broadband. They give out information about coverage areas, organizing communities and educating policymakers. We need more involvement by local citizens, civic groups and other Tennesseans to bring our rural areas up to speed like our urban locations. To see how your county or location ranks, take the time to sign in with Connected Tennessee, on whatever speed Internet system you have, at www.connectedtn.org or give them a call at 615-242-9508.
Broadband is needed now in rural Tennessee! Let's not leave rural Tennessee behind.