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Getting involved on a busy night

Johnson City Press • Updated Jul 26, 2018 at 5:54 PM

Correction: The school board forum begins at 7 tonight.

You have three chances to get involved in community affairs tonight, and unfortunately they’re all happening at the same time. We hope you’ll attend at least one.

Two directly involve the local election and national primaries that wrap up Aug. 2, and the third regards the future of the region’s economic backbone but also has political overtones.

We’ve already encouraged readers to attend the forum for Washington County school board of candidates at Memorial Park Community Center, 510 Bert St., in Johnson City. The Johnson City Press is co-sponsoring the event with unopposed Washington County Commission candidate Jodi Jones in hopes of interesting more voters in a local contest that has implications for county and city residents alike. Written questions will be accepted from the audience.

The second campaign-related event is an NAACP forum for candidates in the 1st District race for the U.S. House of Representatives at Carver Recreation Center, 322 W. Watauga Ave.

At least two of the contenders, Democrat Martin Olsen and Republican Todd McKinley have said they will participate. They’re among five candidates on the ballot hoping to unseat five-term incumbent Phil Roe — McKinley in the Aug. 2 Republican primary and Olsen in the Nov. 6 general election. Roe’s staff says he will not be on hand, though, when the candidates meet because of House votes in Washington today.

The timing and the congressman’s absence are unfortunate, as voters have yet to see the field square off in a common setting. The primary is a week away, and early voting ends on Saturday.

The third opportunity to have your voice heard will be at BrightRidge’s offices at 2600 Boones Creek Road, where the public electrical utility will hold a public hearing on the broadband internet, phone and video services it plans to roll out in phases beginning next year.

As Senior Reporter Robert Houk reported in Wednesday’s edition, BrightRidge expects to have 75 percent of its coverage area — more than 61,000 customers — connected to broadband by the time all eight phases are completed in 2026. That includes 2,540 businesses and 33,428 homes connected to fiber optics, and 275 businesses and more than 25,000 houses serviced by wireless technology.

Tonight’s discussion is essential, because a first-rate broadband backbone is a key to economic growth, especially in expanding services to rural communities. But we expect consumers to be particularly interested in the public hearing because BrightRidge’s expansion into broadband will bring competition for services to the Johnson City area.

Unlike those in many regions around the country, residents here have limited choices for high-speed internet, telephone and television content providers. Many feel held hostage by exclusive franchising territory awarded to cable companies, and bringing competition to big providers like Spectrum, Comcast and Verizon has major political ramifications. It’s been a factor in Tennessee’s gubernatorial race, which also plays out in the August primaries and November midterms.

All three events will begin at 6. Obviously, you can’t be three places at once, but our staff will be at all three with full reports in Friday’s edition. If you have the time, though, please take advantage of the opportunity to participate in the one that interests you most.

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