Among TTA’s members, Scott County Telephone likely has the smallest service area in the state, but that hasn’t stopped the Gate City, Virginia-based cooperative from being involved in the association and active in building out their fiber network with grants, loans and cash investments.
SCTC recently finished a fiber project in Hawkins County, Tennessee, funded by a $2.6 million RUS Community Connect Grant and a matching investment of $393,000 from SCTC. This project provided broadband to 457 previously unserved customers in the rugged northeast corner of the state.
“SCTC has been blessed to receive funding through the RUS Community Connect Grant Program,” says CEO Bill Franklin. “This has allowed us to build a fiber network that is unsurpassed for capacity and reliability, which promotes economic development and improves the quality of life in our communities.”
SCTC is known in the region for its successful work applying for and receiving such grants.
In addition to the 2013 Hawkins County grant, the cooperative also recently received $2.1 million and $3 million Community Connect grants in 2015 and 2014, respectively. Before that, SCTC had applied for and received Community Connect grants in 2002, 2004 and 2008.
This is part of the company’s strong belief that everyone needs to stay connected. It’s that idea that brought them into the Volunteer State in the first place.
During a historic flood in 1977, the raging Clinch River devastated phone networks for thousands of people in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. After the flood waters receded, the incumbent carrier chose not to rebuild its network for a 15-square mile area of Hancock County, Tennessee. Already serving 420 square miles right across the state line in Virginia, SCTC elected to step in and provide badly needed service for this small pocket of Tennesseeans.
Today, the 65-year-old cooperative continues with this tradition, serving about 3,000 square miles. Since 2003, SCTC has invested more than $60 million in its fiber network, installing more than 1,900 miles of fiber. Of that investment, $30 million has come from RUS grants, including Community Connect. Of the remaining funds, $18.6 came from RUS loans, and more than $11 million came from the the Virginia Tobacco Commission.
Initially, a major focus of its fiber project was to connect the cell towers around the region in order for major national carriers to provide 4G service, but the focus now is on connecting CLEC customers to fiber.
SCTC is a critical link as the easternmost member of the IRIS Network and the westernmost member of LIT Networks in Virginia.
“Scott County Telephone Cooperative is in a unique situation because as a partner/owner of LIT and IRIS, SCTC connects both state networks together, which allows customers access either state’s network,” Franklin says.
More about Community Connect Grants:
Community Connect Grants are designed for rural areas that lack any existing broadband speed of at least 3 Mbps (download plus upload). More information about Community Connect Grants can be found on the USDA’s Rural Development website (http://www.rd.usda.gov/programs-services/community-connect-grants). RUS staff members expect 2016 Community Connect Grant applications to open at the end of March or beginning of April.