- Associated Press - Saturday, December 21, 2019

ORLINDA, Tenn. (AP) - Orlinda, the town that bills itself as “the sunniest spot in Tennessee,” is also one of the darkest with information.

Just 30% of residents have access to internet.

But that could soon change. Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation is on the brink of its Cumberland Connect project that will string together rural Tennesseans with fiber optic internet service.

Orlinda, with a population just over 800, sits just 5 miles from the Kentucky border, 45 miles north of Nashville. City Manager Kevin Breeding describes it as “a small rural farming community that’s comfortable with that.”

For years, Orlinda has lived on the outskirts of information. The old bank building that was donated to the city was transformed into a public library in 2000. “We gave some consideration to what are the needs of Orlinda,” Breeding said. “The suggestion was made to do a public library, and I believe it’s one of the best projects we’ve ever done.”

About eight years ago, the library and city hall were equipped with Wi-Fi.

Internet service providers run their own lines in Orlinda. They cross at the downtown intersection and span a short way along Highways 49 and 52. Those within the small city limits or on these roads can get internet service, but at a cost about $40 higher per month than other similar packages elsewhere.

Jennifer Johnson, a resident whose husband works for the Orlinda and Springfield fire departments, has three kids, two of whom use the internet for schoolwork.

She pays $116 a month, she said, for internet without unlimited data or the fastest speed. “That’s with no TV, so I’m really eager to see once CEMC gets in, what’s their solution.”

Orlinda is in phase one of CEMC’s project. Telephone poles will be retrofitted for fiber optics or replaced with new metal ones. The six-year project will span from Dover on the west to near Bledsoe Creek State Park on the east.

In the meantime, life goes on in Orlinda. Johnson’s youngest son, Myles, 4, stands on a log in the front yard and aims with finger pistols while yelling to passing cars.

Down the street, the Lackey family takes their kids for rides on a lawn mower with an attached wagon. They don’t have internet at all; they couldn’t afford it so the children spend time outdoors playing.

Roger Trice, a resident who’s lived in town for years, is the new librarian. Sometimes, residents stand outside near the library trying to get a signal on their phones.

In the background of this quiet town, work hammers on to build a broadband network. Work trucks park in clearings and parking lots, old telephone poles lay next to graves in the town cemetery, and one question remains on each resident’s mind: “When?

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