I think you are correct that the county is the appropriate entity to lead an effort to expand broadband into the unincorporated areas in Monroe County. As you know, the entire city limits of Sweetwater, which is who the city serves, has access to broadband. We are actively seeking opportunities, including our current grant application to ARC for free public wifi in downtown Sweetwater, to enhance the areas inside Sweetwater with better technology. We appreciate the information you have provided and intend to utilize it to benefit our taxpayers. The city is happy to sign any needed letters of support or encourage others to pursue better technology for the rest of the county. No matter who pursues this project or heads it up, I would think the city would be happy to support the effort. Again, our entity is created to serve the people within our city limits, so we are probably not the appropriate group to lead an effort to extend technology access to the county, but we are happy to support that effort.
This view that the people inside the city limits are somehow insulated from any negative consequences affecting the people that grow its food, attend and teach at its schools, shop at its stores and work in its factories is myopic and unsustainable.
I agree that the City of Sweetwater should serve the interests of the taxpayers that are liable for its debt but the Sweetwater Utility Board’s boundaries extend well beyond the city limits and their decisions have a significant impact on the lives and futures of those both within the incorporated boundaries and without. The Utility Board has an obligation to help ensure that their service territory has the necessary utilities to be competitive in THIS century. The ability to access information and to work digitally is now a necessary utility.
If you look at the map of petition responses, half if not more are from within the city limits. People are frustrated with the unreliable choices of either expensive Charter or spotty AT&T, especially now that Charter just increased everyone’s rate! This rate increase will likely lead to lower rates of broadband adoption which means a lower tech-literacy for our community and our workforce. The City of Sweetwater needs a competitive force to drive down prices to increase adoption. The Neighborly program could be that force.
We’re all in this together, whether the city residents and officials see it that way or not. Look at the census data. While Sweetwater may have had a gain of 154 people between the ages of 15 and 64 since 2010, the surrounding area of the 1st district lost 579 people meaning a loss of 425 working age people. A little under 200 of those that left were of college age and around 350 were between the age of 45 and 54. If I were an employer looking to locate here I would have serious concerns about the dwindling workforce.
Better broadband means better education in our schools and better education means higher property values which means more tax revenue for the city. Better education means a better, more marketable workforce. This is why municipal utilities in East Tennessee like Johnson City, Chattanooga and Newport are providing broadband outside of their incorporated city limits. Better broadband in the rural areas means better jobs and better jobs means more sales tax revenue for the city.
If the city is willing to support this effort, we would appreciate it if the city would consider passing a resolution and authoring a letter to the Sweetwater Utility Board encouraging them to participate in this project, for everyone’s sake.
I would also appreciate you forwarding this email and the letter I sent to the County Mayor and Commissioners to officials within the City of Sweetwater.
This effort will take the City of Sweetwater, Sweetwater Utility Board and Monroe County working together in some fashion. This opportunity that has presented itself gives us a chance to make that happen.