By Michelle Price
Special to the UCBJ
UPPER CUMBERLAND – Gov. Bill Lee recently announced $61 million in Emergency Broadband Fund grants to improve access to broadband internet across the state. Gainesboro-based Twin Lakes will be responsible for the construction or management of $11.55 million of that funding.
The emergence of COVID-19 has greatly increased the necessity of reliable, affordable broadband for distance learning, telecommuting, telemedicine and commerce, and never before has there been such a demand for this service.
“As more and more people are isolated at home, or spending more time at home in general, connectivity to the outside world becomes more imperative. Not that it wasn’t before, but it certainly is now,” said Twin Lakes CEO Jonathan West.
This immediate, urgent need for connectivity is what led the state to award these grants and to demand that the work be completed by Dec. 15, less than four months from now.
Twin Lakes received over $1.55 million directly for use in the Cooperative area. These grant funds will allow Twin Lakes to connect over 1,600 additional homes throughout the Cooperative area to their existing fiber network and expedite the process of connecting those homes.
“Their goal in our project was to expedite the replacement of the copper connection with a fiber connection, so that the people in those areas will have better connectivity quicker,” said West.
In addition to their Cooperative grant, Twin Lakes partnered with Volunteer Electric Cooperative (VEC) and Appalachian Electric Cooperative (AEC) on grant applications that received funding.
VEC was awarded three grants totaling over $7 million where Twin Lakes will be the service provider for the customers served. These projects are in Cumberland Cove, Ten Mile / south Roane County, and the Ooltewah / Georgetown area.
The ongoing partnership with VEC was one of the first true partnerships of its kind in the state.
“They own the fiber. We put it on their poles and on their right of way, but we provide the exact same service,” said West. “So, the customer is still a Twin Lakes customer. They still have the facilities provided over fiber, our electronics, our tech support, our customer service, our people, but VEC constructs it and maintains the outside plant – the part that’s on the poles and outside the home.”
The Cumberland Cove residential expansion is Twin Lakes’ first big adventure into expanding their residential footprint in Putnam County, according to West, but customers in a few smaller areas, such as Hickory Flats, are already experiencing the benefits of Twin Lakes 1 GIG service. There are also plans in the works to cover the entire county with broadband service.
“We’re already engineering the residential stuff now,” said West. “And, I don’t mean design engineering, I mean like there are boots on the ground going down streets and measuring poles, measuring peds, so we are going to begin construction in residential expansion and this grant in that Cumberland Cover area is just a natural offshoot of that endeavor that will be taking place over the next two to three years.”
Additionally, Twin Lakes will also be part of the construction and management of grants in the AEC area totaling $7 million.
Putnam County residents that are interested in Twin Lakes Fiber can check here for more information or to sign up for service.