Tennessee Allocates $200 Million for Rural Broadband Expansion

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Last Thursday, the Tennessee state legislature made a $200 million commitment over the next two years to expand broadband in the state, reported WJHL-TV. The first $100 million is allocated for spending in 2021-2022. Although broadband expansion has been part of the state plan for a few years, this legislation could cut deployment time in half. 

“We look at having the ability to use the internet as almost important as having your utilities, electricity and water, to your house…we were able to see through this pandemic just how vital and important the internet is,” said state Rep. Jeremy Faison.

Faison added that officials are committed to ensuring that service makes it “past the people that already have it,” expanding to rural, unserved, and underserved communities. He noted that some of the funds would go towards mapping the state to determine which addresses have internet and which do not, allowing for more accurate deployment where it’s needed.  

WJHL-TV reported that broadband providers could apply for grants through economic development. Uses include installing cable, setting up satellites and cell towers, or creating hot spots. 

According to Rep. Gary Hicks, the grant program will be competitive, but there’s potential for the provider(s) selected. “Not everyone gets chosen,” said Hicks of the application process. “You can see when we have more money to put out there, those that are chosen, that pot gets wider. That’s how we’re going to speed this process up.”

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