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Broadband accessibility grants reach Wilson, surrounding counties

Staff Reports • Updated Jan 27, 2018 at 11:00 AM

Two broadband grants that total more than $3 million from the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development for broadband expansion in and around Wilson County were announced Friday by Gov. Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe. 

About $1.35 million in funding was awarded to Tri-County Fiber Communications for expansion in Sumner and Trousdale counties. Additionally, DTC Communications – which serves Wilson and Smith counties – will receive $1.7 million.

“This grant of $1.7 million for Smith and Wilson counties to build broadband infrastructure is outstanding news,” said state Sen. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon. “This investment will help spur community and economic development by bringing broadband internet to our rural communities, and I congratulate local officials for securing this grant.”

The funds are a part of the Broadband Accessibility Grant Program; it is designed to offset capital expenses in the deployment areas of broadband in unserved areas. The overall goal of the program is to facilitate broadband access to all Tennesseans while promoting practices that increase deployment and promote broadband adoption. Funding targets areas that are unlikely to receive services without grant funding.

“Over the years, we have worked with constituents, local governments and state officials to expand rural broadband in District 40; it has truly been a coalition effort,” said Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster. “This investment means children will be able to expand their knowledge, small businesses will grow and families can stay better connected. I am so thrilled, grateful and happy for our district.”

In 2017, Weaver fought for increased access to reliable broadband services for the residents of her community when she sponsored the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act.

The total $9.844 million in broadband accessibility grants will help build new broadband infrastructure in parts of 13 Tennessee counties. The grants are the result of the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act, Haslam’s 2017 legislation to increase broadband to more Tennesseans and offset the capital expenses of deploying broadband in areas that currently lack access. The grants will provide broadband service to more than 5,000 locations in counties across the state.

Alongside digital literacy grants announced last week, the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act has already supported nearly $10 million in broadband investments across the state.

“In communities across Tennessee, broadband is an essential service that will increase economic investment and growth to help businesses, families and individuals thrive,” Haslam said. “With the assistance of these grants, underserved communities will now have access to broadband that will benefit not only the communities themselves, but the state as a whole. These grants are a step in the right direction for our state and will help Tennessee reach its full potential.”

TNECD received 71 applications requesting more than $66 million in funding. The nine grantees selected demonstrated a high need for grant funding, the ability to implement and sustain the project long term, strong community support and the economic impact of the infrastructure deployment. Grantees will provide more than $10 million in matching funds for a combined investment of more than $20 million across the state.

“One of our top priorities is creating an environment in Tennessee that promotes job growth and success in rural communities. With the leadership of Gov. Haslam and support of the Tennessee General Assembly, those rural communities will now have access to reliable internet and will be better equipped for success,” Rolfe said.

In 2016, TNECD released a commissioned study assessing broadband in Tennessee that found that 13 percent of Tennessee residents do not have access to broadband at federally recognized standards. The Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act provides $45 million over three years in grants and tax credits for service providers to assist in making broadband available to unserved homes and businesses. The TBAA also permits private, nonprofit electrical cooperatives to begin providing retail broadband services to their members.

Weaver serves as chair of the House Transportation Subcommittee. She is also a member of the House Transportation Committee, as well as the House Education Administration and Planning Committee. Weaver represents House District 40, which includes Smith, Trousdale and part of DeKalb and Sumner counties.

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