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Beyond electricity, discussing broadband

By ZOË WATKINS - zwatkins@t-g.com
Posted 6/10/23

The Tennessee Valley Authority hosted a Connected Communities focus group with several Bedford County community leaders Wednesday.

With representatives from the Vanderbilt Bedford Hospital, …

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Beyond electricity, discussing broadband


The Tennessee Valley Authority hosted a Connected Communities focus group with several Bedford County community leaders Wednesday.

With representatives from the Vanderbilt Bedford Hospital, Middle Tennessee State University, Tennessee College of Applied Technology-Shelbyville, the Bedford County School System, Duck River Electric, Silicon Ranch, and Bedford County Government, the group identified key areas of the county’s strengths, weaknesses, threats, and opportunities, as well as the vision for the county.

Bedford County Mayor Chad Graham said, “We’re grateful for each of you taking the time this afternoon to come and be with us to see if we can figure out what’s in the best interest of the community going forward…If we can make something happen here, this is another opportunity to make Bedford better. I’m really grateful for Greg [Vick] stepping up to spearhead it for me and for TVA to come alongside it and try to help us know what’s available upstream.”

And the consensus among the group was that broadband was a critical infrastructure component in addition to more powerful electricity grids to pave the way for any future solar or electric car usage.

But, on the other end, the group emphasized keeping Bedford, Bedford. That is, keep it rural but still provide necessary amenities for the future.

As their vision statement explains, Bedford County should be a “rural county with a super-charged, high-tech artery and infrastructure that welcomes and educates tech development and provide an affordable, attractive place to live and for future generations to stay.”

It’s a lot to accomplish but doable, according to Nicole Wobus, Director of Guidehouse and who helped lead the meeting Wednesday.

This “Connected Communities” initiative involves areas in the TVA service region that want to use “technology and data-related solutions to address community challenges and prepare for a modern energy system.” Through this, TVA can help by connecting the area to resources, funding opportunities, and tailored support.

The group identified Bedford’s current conditions:

  1. Expanding broadband is a major area of focus.
  2. There is a lot of development going on, especially in the U.S. 231 corridor (i.e. Duksan, TCAT-S, Vanderbilt Solar Farm MTSU Aerospace).
  3. The county has emergency districts and the technology is in “good condition.”
  4. EVs (electric vehicles) are a centerpiece of development.

In addition to broadband and electric grids, the groups also pointed out the need for cyber-secure internet, which is a crucial component of public safety, according to Bedford County Director of IT, Josh Carney.

“I think cyber security is a big concern for public safety, not just firefighters and police…If we don’t look at broadband as a utility, then we’re doing ourselves a major disservice.

“Right now, we’re gigabit. Everybody thinks of a gig or 10 gigs. I think it’s important to look way past that. We need to be talking 100 gigs. We need to be able to support a lot more data than we currently can support,” said Carney, who also said the city and county are behind Chattanooga, which is using quantum networking.

This is especially crucial as more people hook on to the system as Bedford continues to grow.

Essentially, current utility companies in Bedford don’t have data on how to balance electricity. So, if people move in with electrical cars, then there’s a chance the transformers will go out due to over-usage. With data, utility companies can keep track of where to build up availability.

“We have to be ahead of the curve because if we’re not we’re falling behind,” said Commissioner Greg Vick. “Broadband, artificial intelligence, and usage of that spectrum is a critical component whether it’s healthcare, housing, affordability, workforce development.”

Vick said conversations like the one on Wednesday will start the discussion for getting artificial intelligence, like the quantum networking in Chattanooga, to give a breakthrough in this rural county that’s never been seen before.

Broadband for education

MTSU Dean of Applied Science Greg Van Patten, who attended the meeting, said the university’s aerospace manufacturer is looking at developing electrical aircraft versus traditional mechanical aircraft.

“That requires foresight because that charging is going to be just as difficult to produce at the airport as it will be across the city,” he said. “Students and parents understand that the high-tech are the ones that are going to employ. Those are parts of the university that are growing.” This also includes autonomous vehicles for agriculture. But they need to be able to connect to broadband, electrical infrastructure, and cyber-security.

Laura Monks, president of TCAT-S, also said they need the technology to teach the future workforce about the technology they will be working on.

Assistant superintendent Tim Harwell said, “The biggest thing for public education in Bedford County is that we want to produce students that are going to be able to go to a four-year university or a TCAT with the skills needed for this day and age. And that’s what we’re currently doing with redesigning the high schools’ CTE class.” Plus, they want the students to come back to this county to live and work.

The county is also planning to conduct a county-wide broadband survey this summer to detail which areas are most underserved. More information is forthcoming.

A topical summit discussing the importance of broadband will be June 20 at the Shelbyville Central High School auditorium at 10:30 a.m.