Fiber Committee Discusses Status of Broadband Installation
On Monday, Feb. 13, representatives from West Kentucky & Tennessee Telecommunications Cooperative met with the Weakley County Fiber Committee and provided an update concerning the progress made on installing broadband fiber cable in those areas of the county where construction and installation are completed or underway.
Thus far, Phase I is completed and Phase II is expected to be finished within a week or so. Phase III is underway, and Phase IV is still in the engineering stages.
“I’m kind of frustrated, because I thought we’d have Phase IV engineering completed by the first of January,” Commissioner Roger Donaldson said. “That’s mostly in my district and it’s a big part of that phase. We were hoping we could tell the people if they are in or out of that build.”
Donaldson explained Phase I is south of Martin in the Sharon and Sidonia area. This involved a matching grant, with WK&T paying $2 million, the State of Tennessee $2 million, and Weakley County the remaining $2 million of the project costing $6 million. Phase II, covering then Palmersville area, is also paid for proportionally, with each of these entities covering $2 million of the expense for the $6 million project. Phase II includes work along Jewel Store Road and part of Hwy 190. Phase III, which requires no local matching funds, is through a government grant that provides funding for the entire cost. This project is in the Stafford’s Store Road area, between Greenfield and McKenzie. Phase IV includes the Hyndsver Road area, with no local match required. WK&T has been awarded a $12.3 million grant from the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development under its Tennessee Emergency Broadband Fund – American Rescue Plan. WK&T representatives said they are very excited to continue working with the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development and Weakley County to invest an additional $5.3 million benefiting homes and businesses in rural parts of Weakley County now considered unserved or underserved. Making the grand total invested approximately $17.6 million.
However, Donaldson said, “Phase IV is a moving target. The maps showing the coverage area seem to be changing every day. WK&T can’t tell us anything definite, until the State approves it.”
Weakley County used other grant funding to help cover most of its share of the cost for the projects. The actual cost to the taxpayers of Weakley County was $40,000 for a study and $500,000 when the build started, for a total of $540,000.
“There’s a $100,000 Tribal Grant ($50,000 per year) that we can use for anything,” Donaldson said. So, we could use these funds for hooking up residences across the road from where fiber cable is installed that are not included in the coverage area. He explained, if residences are hooked up outside of the approved grid, it would violate the terms of the grant, and millions of dollars in state funding could be lost. “If you violate a grant, you’ve got to pay the money back,” he said.
According to Donaldson, once these projects are completed and closed out, the Tribal Grant money could be used to help connect those structures across the road from where the broadband is installed. Weakley County could put up half of the money and WK&T the other half to provide these homes and businesses with broadband connections.
“Right now, it’s estimated $200,000 ($1,000 per drop) would take care of those ‘across the road’ hookups for the areas covered in phases I and II,” Donaldson said. “It will require further study to determine the cost for additional hookups following phases III and IV.
“We’ve been very fortunate to get grants, so it’s not costing the taxpayers as much money.
“I made a motion to form this committee six years ago. We don’t get paid. We’re strictly volunteers. It’s just a terribly slow process.”