Officials can’t say how gov’t-owned Internet will bring promised jobs


By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog

NASHVILLE — Kimball Mayor Rex Pesnell said broadband Internet in his town of about 1,400 will help economic development, but so far he’s short on specifics.

Officials in this small Marion County town recently passed a resolution asking state legislators to reconsider a law forbidding government-owned Internet providers from expanding beyond original municipal lines.

In this case, Pesnell and other town officials want the broadband service that nearby Chattanooga’s Electric Power Board, a public utility, offers.

BROADBAND? Leaders in Kimball are asking state officials to review a law that forbids Chattanooga’s Electric Power Board from extending their broadband services in their area.

As reported, EPB competes in Chattanooga against private providers such as Comcast and offers ultra high-speed Internet through a smart grid, which cost taxpayers $111 million via federal stimulus money.

Internet is already available in Kimball, but not broadband.

Even if you were traveling through the town, Pesnell, says, you can pick up the Internet on your smartphone.

So, how, exactly, Tennessee Watchdog asked, would broadband Internet help bring jobs to the town?

“We just feel that it’s something that we need,” Pesnell said.

But what about research that shows most people use the Internet for entertainment, instead of creating jobs?

Are Pesnell and other officials developing a formal proposal to show how they would use broadband Internet to stimulate Kimball’s economy?

“No, there is nothing at this time,” Kimball said, adding there’s no indication the town’s private Internet Service Provider plans to bring in broadband any time soon.

Will people in Marion County get broadband Internet through EPB?

What about the rest of the county?

How badly does it need broadband?

Marion County Mayor David Jackson, who is also formally asking state legislators to review the state law on the matter, didn’t return four requests for comment this week.

County Commissioner Louin Campbell, who said he doesn’t use the Internet, said the county’s economy is doing all right.

“We have about five industrial companies and they are hiring some, although our county could use a few more jobs, but we aren’t in dire need of jobs,” Campbell said.

Campbell said the county’s population is in no danger of shrinking any time soon.

“We have a lot of middle-aged people, people moving into new developments. We even have a lot of people coming in from Wisconsin and other states moving into our county, but these are mostly retired people,” Campbell said.

According to the most recent U.S. Census, the county has a population of almost 30,000, 75 percent of whom own a home.

The county has a median household income of nearly $40,000, but almost 20 percent of residents live below the federal poverty level, according to the U.S. Census.

As reported, many Chattanooga area officials gathered last month and spoke of how broadband Internet is vital infrastructure, similar to roads, electricity and even water.

Jonathan Harlan, CEO of a Jackson-based ISP, said free market solutions, likely through wireless technology, will eventually bring stronger Internet to these rural areas.

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Harlan

Jonathan Harlan

Harlan also said it’s expensive for private providers to extend their broadband services to these rural areas.

“There is no free lunch. It isn’t free. It doesn’t come out of the sky. You have to build these networks. You have to operate them,” Harlan said.

“There is wear and tear. There is depreciation, labor of people, all of that. At the end of the day it has to be sustainable, and in the private sector we call that profitable, and in the public sector we call that subsidization.”

Contact Christopher Butler at

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