Rural areas in Marion County could still get broadband access

Staff file photo / Service technicians Stacy Mann, left, and Nathen Lloyd step out of an EPB trailer with a newly installed fiber optics cable during an installation at CityGreen Apartments in Chattanooga's North Shore area in 2016.

JASPER, Tenn. - Like many local governments across Tennessee, Marion County leaders have been pushing for a couple of years to change state laws that restrict municipal utilities like EPB's gigabit internet, TV, and phone services from expanding beyond current borders.

EPB has petitioned the state and the Federal Communications Commission, too, and Mike Partin, president and CEO of the Sequatchee Valley Electric Cooperative, said broadband access has been "widely debated across the state."

"So far in the [state] Legislature, that has been defeated," he said. "AT&T has a pretty extensive lockdown, it seems like, in the Legislature. That's one of the holdups."

Telecommunications companies such as AT&T and Comcast argue that it's unfair to allow government to compete the market with private industry.

Partin said there is a "good opportunity" for that barrier to fall in the upcoming legislative session, and the SVEC has been preparing for that.

"We've