Residents who live in southeastern rural Wilson County are about to get a high-tech upgrade when it comes to internet speeds that are currently creeping, crawling or nonexistent.
Watertown Chamber of Commerce members on Tuesday, Sept. 3 heard from Chris Townson, CEO of DTC Communications, about plans to provide rural residents in Wilson County with high-speed internet.
In January 2018, DTC Communications received a $1.725 million grant to improve access to high-speed broadband in rural areas. The funding came from then-Gov. Bill Haslam’s Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act.
According to DTC Communications, the grant covers areas near Watertown in Wilson County, as well as areas near Plunkett Creek and Rawls Creek roads in neighboring Smith County. The project included building miles of new fiber-optic lines in and around the designated grant area and was initially expected to take up to two years to complete.
“I’ve been very fortunate that our board of directors has agreed to an aggressive plan that overbuilds our existing network of fiber optics, because we have some facilities that were even put on the poles in 1958, and they shouldn’t be,” Townson said. “They have about a 25-year life, and we are still making them work. But they are not capable of doing what the future and even the current customers require.”
Townson told chamber members gathered at the Depot Junction Café in Watertown the project is ahead of schedule and should be ready for customers as early as December.
“Right now, we are about a year ahead of schedule, and rather than getting to 70 percent, we are going to get to about 85 percent of existing network,” Townson said.
“We wanted it to be faster, but the reality is you can’t get it any faster. If we can get it any sooner, we will. It will not be before Nov. 15. I know that for a fact.”
The cost for residential customers would be $64.99 per month for the first year and $79 per month thereafter for 1 gigabyte per second download speeds. Other slower speeds and costs will also be available, Townson said, but those packages will also be considerably faster than what’s currently available to residents. Business bundles will be from $89 to $289 per month, depending on speeds.
“That’s about half the industry average,” Townson said.
Any business or resident on a street where fiber optic lines were installed will be able use DTC Communications’ high-speed internet service.
He said last year’s grant award was a gamechanger for the telecommunications cooperative.
“We were one of only nine companies in the state to be awarded that grant out of more than 70 that applied. I think we turned in more than 200 letters in support of that grant,” Townson said.
“The good news is our original grant area covered about 581 homes. We have expanded that in this area to be more than 1,200 homes. And when I say homes, I mean homes, businesses, whatever. We used the money provided by the state grant – $1.725 million. We put another almost $3 million that we were only required to double it. We put in almost $3 million with that, and we have expanded the area to be much, much bigger. We are doing everything we can to branch out.”
DTC Communications serves residents in Cannon, DeKalb, Rutherford, Smith and Wilson counties. About $30 million in grants and $15 million in tax breaks were part of Haslam’s program, approved in 2017 in the Tennessee General Assembly. The DTC Communications grant was part of the first wave of grant funding.
Townson said DTC missed out on the state’s second round of grants, but it has applied in round three to further expand its rural coverage area.