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Residents told to provide inputs on FCC broadband map’s accuracy

Some problems are so big and complex that it is good to go beyond the experts and obtain as much input as possible from the people most affected. That is why decision makers in Nashville want to get local input in showing local internet availability.

But the state wants that input as fast as it can get it. A deadline of Jan. 13 has been set for internet users to get their input to the state.

The input will be used to make the national standard on internet availability more accurate. That standard is the Federal Communications Commission’s new National Broadband Map. It shows internet availability nationwide. To make sure the map is as accurate as possible in Tennessee, the state will use the input from local internet users. The users can submit their input to BroadbandMap.gov. There, they can search for their home or small business.

The most important thing for the state is that if the service reported on the national map is incorrect or if the reported service or speed is not available to the customer, they can submit a challenge to the map.

Two local leaders suspect there should be plenty of challenges. Johnson County Mayor Larry Potter and Carter County Mayor Patty Woodby said they have heard reports that service has been overstated on the map by internet providers.

Potter said this is not a recent problem. “I was mayor once before and I remember an internet businessman telling me that a section of the county had total access. I said we should get in the car and go out and check the area for ourselves. He said he couldn’t because he was too busy right then.”

Woodby said she has heard that internet providers have run service into a small section of a district along the main roads and then claimed the entire district was connected.

That can be a problem when local, state, and federal authorities use grants to provide service in areas without internet. If a provider said internet is provided to an entire district when it is only provided along main roads, that could mean the rest of the district is ignored when these scarce grants are used to extend service. That would be an even bigger problem in mountainous areas in Carter and Johnson counties, where it is harder and more costly to extend internet service.

Although there is not a lot of time for citizens to complete the requirement, Woodby and Potter say it is a very important task. Woodby said when she received the information about the state’s attempt to make the map more accurate she immediately forwarded it to all Carter County commissioners. Potter said he is also working to get the word out by email and other means.

Both mayors know that one way to determine a community’s readiness to meet the demands of the near future is to determine the percentage of residences and businesses in that community that have access to broadband internet.

By that measure, Tennessee falls short. One in six rural Tennessee households lack access to broadband, according to the 2020 Broadband Deployment Report issued by the Federal Communications Division. In response to the growing need for broadband, Gov. Bill Lee and Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Stuart McWhorter announced on Sept. 12 that the state will award $446,770,282 in grants for the expansion of internet access across the state. The grants will provide broadband access to more than 150,000 unserved homes and businesses across 58 counties.

“Our strategic investments in broadband infrastructure will ensure our rural communities are connected and have every opportunity to thrive, and I thank the Financial Stimulus Accountability Group for managing dollars effectively to serve Tennesseans” Lee said when the grants were announced.

It was not the first time in recent years that Tennessee has made an investment in broadband. Since 2018, the Department of Economic and Community Development has awarded nearly $120 million in broadband grants through state and federal funding to serve more than 140,000 Tennessee residences.

It is obviously a big and expensive project to get the entire state ready for the future demands, but just how big is the project? Obviously, it is important that residents of the state have a vested interest in getting the map as accurate as possible. Johnson City Press

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