BY DAVID FISHER
DRESDEN (November 16) — After five years of planning, engineering studies and spirited debate, the Weakley County Commission finally took the long-awaited step of committing the funds necessary to make fiber internet service available to all rural citizens of the county. The top item of discussion during a meeting of the Weakley County Commission held Monday, November 16 involved the complete build of a fiber Internet infrastructure network throughout the unincorporated areas of the county.
Following a highly-charged verbal exchange between commissioners, the proposed project, dubbed Phase II, was approved by a vote of 17 to 1, with 9th District Commissioner Donnie Essary casting the sole “no” vote.
The cost to Weakley County taxpayers is a maximum of $10.5 million. West Kentucky and Tennessee Telecommunications Cooperative, Inc. (WK&T) is obligated to pay a matching amount and is pursuing grant funding to help make up the difference. The total cost of the project is estimated at $26 million.
Phase I, costing the county $2 million, was already approved and construction is underway. This will bring fiber internet to limited rural areas, while Phase II, approved at Monday night’s meeting, will cover all remaining rural areas.
During discussion, some Commissioners voiced objections to committing the funds called for in the resolution, saying the project is too expensive and not cost effective.
However, others argued fiber Internet service has become a necessary infrastructure requirement, just as electrical power and roads have in the past.
The resolution reads in part: “The legislative body of Weakley County, Tennessee, having committed itself to the improvement of the community that it represents and assisting citizens in securing the essential services for daily life, wishes to authorize West Kentucky and Tennessee Telecommunications Cooperative, Inc. (WK&T) to pursue all state and federal funding sources for the purpose of providing broadband access to the unserved areas of Weakley County that are located outside the city limits of all municipalities situated therein.
“The need for reliable, high-speed internet is growing daily and improved broadband availability is necessary for all citizens with respect to education, health care, communication, interactions with government farming and business operations, commerce entertainment and future uses yet to be developed.
“Having determined proper eligibility by multiple state and federal program guidelines, Weakley County Government will commit funds for a maximum amount of $10,500,000 to implement the aforementioned improvements and with a minimum equal commitment of $10,500,000 to be provided by (WK&T).”
The resolution also stipulates WK&T will submit a detailed plan of completion and cost to the Health, Education, and Economic Development Committees as well as the Finance, Ways and Means Committee, for approval of funding prior to the initiation of the aforementioned improvements.
The resolution authorizes the county mayor, in consultation with the Weakley County attorney, to sign all necessary assurances, agreements, or contracts required for the recipients of these funds.
Weakley County Mayor Jake Bynum states the funding mechanism for the project must be worked out in the coming weeks, and approved by the State Comptroller’s Office.