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County agrees to match BrightRidge broadband funding

Staff Writer [email protected]

Washington County residents will be connected to the broadband, following a $2.64 million payment approval by the Washington County Commission.

This payment will match the BrightRidge investment to secure a $6.17 million state broadband grant.

“I think at this point in 2022, you have to have it,” Washington County Commissioner Kent Harris said. “You have to be connected.”

BrightRidge estimates that about 17,000 additional Washington County residents will gain access to high-speed internet.

“Over 5,620 homes are going to be served by this fiber internet,” Harris said.

BrightRidge CEO Jeff Dykes and BrightRidge Chief Broadband Officer Stacy Evans presented information to the commission related to the broadband internet opportunity for Washington County residents.

“Basic statistics dictate 58% of American students need internet at home just to do homework every night,” Evans said. “And then 47% of students that do not have home internet go on to secondary post education and goes to 65% that nave nominal access to internet. So there is measurable differences these things make.”

With an increased service area, the educational system would gain extra assistance needed for the future of students. “A lot of kids that were having to do their homework, many of them had to ride down to Mc- Donald’s and park in the parking lot to do homework back when the schools were shut down because of COVID,” Harris said. “It’s essential.”According to Evans, students won’t be the only ones to benefit from the access to broadband. Residents who work from home or need telehealth will also receive much needed assistance. “COVID has expedited the need for remote workers,” Evans said. “If you are looking for someone in a rural area who can work from home where they can start businesses, broadband is very important for that.” Residents who have to work remotely are finding it hard to do their job effectively without reliable internet.

“I have lived in the Harmony Community for al- most 20 some years and we have no internet other than Century Link,” Washington County resident Janice Overbay said. “I work for an engineering firm and require a laptop to do my work on. Since all this pandemic has been going on, I’ve worked off the hotspot on my phone because Century Link just does not cut it. So, it would be very beneficial to me and my surrounding neighbors too that have children.”

For resident Kevin Breuel, the need for internet could have literally changed his life.

“We have no access to internet. We have no access to Century Link. The point I would like to make is, this has been something in this current time that is much needed for those of us that don’t have it. I’ve got children in college, virtually by now, trying to work off a hotspot. My last AT&T bill was $600,” he said.

“Telehealth is a huge component now we got into the last two years with COVID. I had a wife that had been sick over the last two and a half years that passed away a couple of months ago. It would have helped enormously to not have to drive to Knoxville every other week. We couldn’t do telehealth on a hotspot. So, there’s a lot of things I think you might not think about that are really important to those that don’t have it.”

Harris says anyone that has been surveyed recently about the potential to receive broadband will be in the range of the fiber network.

“This grant would fund more than a means for area residents to surf the web or stream their favorite shows. I feel it could be a major step towards creating a happier and healthier community,” Harris said.
Evans and BrightRidge said residents could see internet as early as six months from the time of approval, which is possibly going to be in March or April but could take up to 16 months.