According to the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, any area that has fixed wireless from AT&T will not be eligible for funding by the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility act. The availability of fixed wireless also likely means that those areas won’t be eligible for any of the federal funding opportunities either. AT&T has effectively locked in their monopoly status in the rural areas of Tennessee with it’s fixed wireless product and because of that, it’s unlikely that there will be any service upgrades in the foreseeable future. This service only has to be available to one home in a census block to render it ineligible for funding which applies to most of rural Sweetwater.
This means that AT&T can now stifle competition virtually anywhere it chooses by rendering areas that receive it’s 4G signal ineligible for grant funding. Now we can clearly see why Jack Johnson, the Republican Senator from AT&T and chairman of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee that shutdown municipal broadband expansion earlier this year, added the amendment to the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act to lower eligibility requirements from 25/3 to 10/1.
While I understand that folks with no other choices may welcome this service, it isn’t broadband and the low data cap means young families looking to relocate to the area will and should look elsewhere. The average family in 2017 consumed 151 GB per month according to Comcast, up from 128 GB per month in 2016. It’s likely that the average for 2018 already exceeds AT&T’s 170 GB cap. Gamers, remote workers, cord cutters and those that would like to take advantage of telehealth opportunities will be disappointed with the data caps, latency and low upload speeds.
The only hope I see for state or federal grant funding would be counties partnering with utility boards and local hospitals to apply for the telemedicine/telehealth grants recently announced by the FCC.
Another option would be for us rural folks to cooperate as a non-profit and start building the network ourselves. This approach may open up opportunities for smaller grants and donations. If you’re interested in cooperating and live in the Sweetwater area, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s start working together like our parents, grandparents and great-parents did to bring electricity to rural Tennessee.