​Ben Lomand Opens Free Wi-Fi Community Center; Fiber Expansion Underway

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

This week, telecommunication provider Ben Lomand Connect will “light up” a technology and community center at Camp Mount Milner on Jump Off Road. Outfitted with two computer terminals, a printer, and offering free Wi-Fi, the center will be open to the public from 7 a.m.-6 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday. The center is part of the fiber optic expansion being undertaken by Ben Lomand Connect in conjunction with a $1.8 million Community Connectivity grant received from the USDA just over a year ago.

Camp Mount Milner, also known as Camp Rainbow, allowed Ben Lomand to locate a trailer for the tech-community center on the front corner of the property. Instructions for computer and printer use are posted and printer paper is available. Ben Lomand Operations Manager Chad Dees suggested center users bring paper if they have a large amount of printing to do. Security and monitoring systems protect against vandalism. Ben Lomand has tech-community centers at two other locations and has had no vandalism issues.

The Community Connectivity grant, which makes the Jump Off tech-community center possible, is being matched with a $320,021 contribution from Ben Lomand. The project’s main focus is to extend fiber optic broadband service to 265 households in the areas of Jump Off Road (Hwy. 156), Sherwood Road (Hwy. 56), and Harrison Chapel (Midway community).

“Five miles of fiber optic cable are already in the ground,” said Dees, “along with five miles of existing cable.” Ben Lomand is currently engaged in laying the fiber optic cable to feed switches located at the junction of Jump Off and Jump Off Mountain Road, Sherwood and Rattlesnake Springs Road, and Harrison Chapel. With the cable to the switches in place, Ben Lomand will move on to laying the distribution fiber to feed the homes, Dees explained.

Dees anticipates the project will take 12 to 18 months to complete with Harrison Chapel and Sherwood Road coming on line first, then Jump Off Road a little later in the process.

“We’ve had some slow downs due to right of way work and encountering rock,” Dees said, “but this is normal. We’ve changed from an aerial plan to a buried plan.”

“Laying the fiber entirely underground makes it less affected by things of nature, less disruptive, calls for less tree cutting, and makes the installation cleaner. In three to four weeks it’s hard to tell we’ve been there.” Dees added that the installation crew usually waited a week or two before doing final cleanup to give the ground time to settle.

Ben Lomand has a number of other fiber projects in process, as well.

“We’re deploying more fiber on an annual basis than at any time in the history of our cooperative,” said General Manager Lisa Cope.

Ben Lomand is engaged in right of way work and tree trimming in conjunction with the installation that will bring fiber optic services to the entire Domain of the University of the South.

Grant projects are ongoing in Normandy and Pocahontas in Coffee County, with internal projects underway in Monteagle, Beech Grove and Centertown. Projects in Tracy City and Rock Island are near completion.

“Fiber optic technology is a quality of life issue making possible otherwise unavailable advances in medicine, home based businesses, and education,” Cope stressed. “This is something we’ve hoped for and dreamed about for years.”