$45M set aside to provide broadband for all Tennessee families, businesses

Gov. Bill Haslam has signed the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act into law. According to the governor’s office, the bill sets aside $45 million over the next three years in grants and tax credits for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to assist in making broadband available to unserved homes and businesses.

“More than 800,000 Tennesseans don’t have access to broadband, and one in three businesses identified it as essential to selecting their location. Spurring deployment in our rural, unserved areas will open them up to economic investment and growth,” Haslam said. “I want to thank the General Assembly for its overwhelming support, particularly Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville) and Rep. David Hawk (R-Greeneville) for carrying this legislation, which provides a reasonable, responsible path to improve broadband access through investment, deregulation, and education.”

The plan allows Tennessee’s private, nonprofit electric cooperatives to provide retail broadband service and make grant funding available to the state’s local libraries to help residents improve their digital literacy skills and maximize the benefits of broadband.

“The benefits of having high-speed broadband Internet are huge, and those who don’t have access to it are at an enormous disadvantage. Nowhere is that pain felt more strongly than in our rural communities,” said Tom Ferree, CEO of Connected Nation, a nonprofit that works to bring broadband access to all people in the U.S. “Connected Nation began working with Tennessee communities and lawmakers in 2007, and our staff saw firsthand how it can change lives—giving families and businesses access to better healthcare, education, and economic opportunities. I’m excited to see Gov. Haslam and Senators Bell and Hawk continue to set the standard in our country for broadband access, adoption, and use.”

As a public-private partnership, Connected Tennessee, a subsidiary of Connected Nation, worked with technology-minded businesses, government entities, and universities to accelerate technology access, adoption, and use in the state. It’s one way Connected Nation has lived out its mission to help everyone become part of a digital world.

“It’s incredible how beneficial the Internet is to families and businesses,” Eric Frederick, vice president of Community Affairs for Connected Nation, said. “The opportunities are limitless. To leave people out, to leave them without the broadband access that can improve their quality of life or help them improve their education or financial standing, is simply wrong.”

Frederick leads the Connected Community Engagement Program, which works to identify where there is a lack of broadband and provides solutions to connecting the community with its community-specific Technology Action Plans.

The engagement program staff work directly with local community leaders to help businesses, families and farmers, as well as urban and rural schools and libraries, and others find ways to connect to broadband and improve their communities.

The Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act is part of Haslam’s Next-Tennessee legislative plan aimed at building and sustaining economic growth and the state’s competitiveness for the next generation of Tennesseans.

According to the governor’s office, the legislation came after a year of study and stakeholder conversations by the administration. In July 2016, the Department of Economic and Community Development released a commissioned study assessing broadband in Tennessee and options for increasing access and utilization.

In addition, a report issued by the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR), which completed extensive work on the subject of broadband accessibility and adoption, significantly contributed to Haslam’s broadband proposal.