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  • Betty Girardeau

Let There Be Light


As I have driven so many back country roads that twist and turn down into and out of what some Tennesseans would call "hollers," one thing has struck me, and that is electric poles and lines. It was no small task to bring electricity to these outlying areas. And it didn't happen that long ago. The Rural Electrification Act was passed in 1936 as part of FDR's "New Deal." This act provided federal loans for the installation of electrical distribution systems to serve isolated rural areas of the United States. The funding was channeled through cooperative electric power companies, hundreds of which still exist today, and, in fact, today I get power from one of these cooperatives in Tennessee. As I have been driving, I have imagined how physically challenging it must have been to bring power to these mountainous areas in particular, especially since at that time many of the roads weren't even paved. But what a wonder and a thrill it must have been for the people in these areas to be able to flip a switch and have light, not just in their houses, but in their barns as well. For the last couple of days my cases have taken me to areas where internet service doesn't yet exist. I have found my cases thanks to Google maps and GPS coordinates that have been found for each case on my list. This gets me to the location pretty effectively. But yesterday, when I had finished my last case, I felt sure, because of the direction that I had been driving, that there had to be a faster route to get home than to back track the way I had come. However, I was in an area where there was no service. I could not ask Google or Waze to get me home. Nor, that late in the day, was I anxious to try to figure it out on my own just using a compass. So I had no choice but to back track, which I am sure added many more miles than I would have driven had I been able to learn a better way. My late husband, who loved paper maps, would have laughed at me and said, "I told you so," and that I should have had a paper map of Tennessee with me. But, honestly, I don't even think that would have helped too much as the road on which my case was located was one lane, barely paved and quite likely would not have showed up on a map, although the Tennessee highway 360 that got me almost to my location would have. Anyway, the thoughts of getting lost as it was beginning to cloud up and get dark was not very appealing. As I drove home, retracing my earlier steps, I thought about the fact that electricity is available way back in these hills, but internet definitely isn't, and it falls away when you least expect it. This brings me back to the Rural Electrification Act. This act has been amended fifteen times since it was originally signed into law. The last two amendments came in 2008 and 2014. The first of these made provisions for access to rural broadband telecommunications network and rural internet. Six years later that amendment allowed for the creation of a pilot program for rural gigabit broadband network. Here at home I can look out my window and watch workers installing fiber optic cable in my neighborhood. The fact that they are doing so is directly related to this 2014 amendment. At some point before too long workers will likely be bringing fiber optic to the back country areas in which I have been driving recently. It will be a great day when that happens. And for the sake of the 2030 census enumerators I hope they will not take it lightly that they may not ever find themselves in an area that is "out of service."

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