Letter to Mayor Ingram and County Commissioners – Neighborly Broadband Accelerator

​Mayor Ingram and Commissioners,

Firstly, I want to let you know that I’ve BCC’d around 130 folks here in the 1st district and the SUB service territory, many of whom are frustrated with broadband access and I want to encourage them to also contact you in support of what I’m going to ask of the County and of local governments and also to forward this to friends, family and neighbors. If anyone has any questions for me, reply to me directly and CC your Mayor and Commissioners as well. If you live in the city, feel free to forward this to your City Commissioners and the Sweetwater Utility Board members if you can find contact information for them. You can either use your voice to change the world or you can let others use their voices to change the world for you. This won’t happen unless WE make it happen.

A few members of our “Seeking Broadband in Sweetwater” Facebook group applied as community advocates for the Neighborly Broadband Accelerator program. As part of this program, Neighborly assists with community education, design, marketing, planning and better than market rate (supposedly) financing of community owned broadband networks through bonds. Their platform allows community members to invest in themselves through the purchase of those bonds to build “Open Access Networks“. We were notified that we were one of 35 communities to be accepted into this program last Thursday but we understand that, as advocates, we can’t do this on our own without participation from our local governments.

Because of AT&T’s fixed wireless (not broadband) deployment, our area can’t expect grant funding from the state or federal government even though it’s been reported to me that folks without direct line of sight to AT&T’s cellular tower can’t even get service when AT&T claims they can. The big blue rural broadband death star (AT&T) has destroyed ours and many other small town’s chances of using these funds to close the digital divide. With the number of cord-cutters accelerating, AT&T now has a disincentive to deliver real broadband to rural DirecTV (AT&T) subscribers who can then abandon that product entirely in favor of better fitting, cheaper alternatives such as Netflix and/or Amazon Prime. The local cable monopoly (Charter Spectrum) insists that we pay them out of pocket for every inch of cable they lay (and equipment) and then also pay them full price for service.

An “Open Access Network” is a three tiered business model consisting of a network owner, a network operator and service providers. This model creates a free-marketwhere service providers compete to deliver the best customer experience for the best price. In this model, Sweetwater Utility Board would own the fiber, a third party (could be a local IT company) would operate the network and do some high level marketing, and any number of ISPs (could also be local businesses) would compete against one another for customers, handle billing and end user technical support. This model satisfies preferences and concerns presented to me by the city/SUB that:

  • they own the fiber.
  • they incur minimal operating expenses (no customer support, no electronics).
  • they’re not “in the broadband business”.
  • they’re not competing directly with Charter/AT&T.

This is NOT municipal broadband and doesn’t put the Utility Board in the broadband business. This concept aligns with the free-market values of Monroe County residents by creating real competition where there is currently little to none. This is an opportunity for Sweetwater and Sweetwater Utility Board to generate extra revenues, lower operating expenses and modernize the electric grid by allowing themselves and their customers to get real-time usage information along with real-time notification of outage locations instead of relying on the current phone-book method. It puts them on a good footing for being able to adapt to the very real threat of distributed energy systems and increases our community resiliency and self-reliance. [For those concerned about smart meters, you likely already have one and you can read it remotely]

It also provides a solid platform for the delivery of telemedicine/telehealth in the area which could be attractive to our ever expanding aging population and other seniors looking to relocate here. I would think the hospital might have some interest here as well and this is likely the only way we’ll be eligible for any grant funding.

This is a huge opportunity for us to get expert assistance in building this network and to invest in our future!

Obviously, this will require participation from the Utility Board and the City, and to be honest, I don’t think I’m the one to move this forward. I’m certain the frustration I have with Sweetwater City government and the Sweetwater Utility Board is mutual. Along with participation from the County, this project needs people active in the community to champion and “sell” the idea to the Sweetwater community at large. Many folks don’t realize that the fact that 34% of their neighbors don’t have access to broadband directly impacts them as well through lower test scores in schools, decreased property tax revenues, lower home values, job opportunities and the migration of our younger rural workforce to larger cities.

Will the County take the lead on this? Most of the 1st district lives outside the City limits of Sweetwater so the county seems like the appropriate entity to help. I will assist as much or as little as requested, time permitting. We already have maps, lists of addresses with no broadband or poor broadband, the “Seeking Broadband in Sweetwater” Facebook group and a petition to the Utility Board with over 250 signatures, 114 of which have agreed to be contacted via email.

As you may or may not know, the IT/Maker industries in Tennessee are booming in and around Nashville and ChattanoogaKnoxville is trying to get into the game as well with its “maker city” brand. Other communities, particularly in northeast Tennessee are moving forward with similar initiatives and there’s no reason Sweetwater can’t be a part of what’s to come, but we have to act.
I’m off this week if you’d like to have a further discussion.

I appreciate the consideration and thank you for being attentive,

Lindsey Chesnutt​

(If you or any of the others addressed in this email would like for me to forward your response back to the original group, just let me know. I didn’t want to give out addresses without permission.)

(If you don’t want to receive any more emails from me, reply and I will remove you from future emails.)

(If you were forwarded this email and would like to receive future emails, please go here, sign the petition and check “Add me to your mailing list” box or send me an email directly)

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