published Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

Marion County leaders push fiber-optic expansion

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Should EPB expand its broadband outside its service area?

JASPER, Tenn. — Marion County leaders are pushing for changes to state laws that restrict companies like Chattanooga utility EPB from expanding high-speed Internet, TV and phone services outside their electric service areas.

Now they are encouraging other counties across Tennessee to join the fight.

Commissioner Wayne Willis introduced the issue in July and asked Marion County Mayor John Graham and County Attorney Billy Gouger to draft a resolution supporting legislation to allow companies like EPB to offer services in Marion.

"I've read [the resolution]," he said. "I like it, and I'd like for everyone to vote to support it."

The Marion County Commission voted unanimously to do so recently.

Willis said the resolution asks state legislators to "revisit the law" and "change it a little bit."

"Nobody inside our county seems to want to put in fiber optics, so we may have to go outside to find help," he said. "As the law reads now, we can't do that."

Commission Chairman Les Price said the county wants state legislators to "open that door for us" to faster Internet access.

State Sen. Janice Bowling is "extremely involved" with the issue, Graham said, and he has had several discussions with her about it.

"She'll be bringing legislation on it next year," he said.

Graham is going to send Marion's resolution to the Association of County Mayors of Tennessee and the Tennessee County Commissioners Association this week in hopes of getting other counties on board.

"They can distribute it to all counties in Tennessee and ask them to support a similar resolution," he said.

Commissioner Gene Hargis, who served as interim county mayor several years ago, said he and other county officials met with EPB then about bringing its services to Marion.

"At that time, they were very eager for the opportunity to get the fiber across the river and into Marion County," he said.

Price said the technology that EPB and other companies offer is something desperately needed for the county to grow.

Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at ryanlewis34@gmail.com.

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