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Tennessee awards nearly $450 million to providers to expand broadband internet access

Utility providers across the state, including KUB and Appalachian Electric Cooperative, will receive millions of dollars in grants to expand broadband access.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Governor Bill Lee on Monday announced the state approved nearly $450 million in grants as part of a large initiative to expand broadband internet access across Tennessee.

Lee and Stuart McWhorter, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, said the state approved $447 million in grants to various utility providers to expand broadband access to more than 150,000 unserved homes and businesses in 58 counties.

The Knoxville Utilities board will use a huge chunk of change to expand broadband in many rural communities. 

"In Granger, Union, Jefferson and Severe counties totaling right at $15 million," said Jamie Davis. 

 Davis is the vice president of fiber at KUB.

He says KUB will use its 15 million in federal funding to expand broadband access. 

" And whether you live in downtown Knoxville or in these rural areas where these grants have been funded, you'll be able to receive that world-class service," said Davis. 

Grants will provide wireless to more than 150,000 unserved homes and businesses across 58 counties statewide.

According to the Federal Communications Commission's 2020 Broadband Deployment Report, one in six rural Tennesseans lacked access to broadband internet. Since 2018, TNECD has awarded nearly $120 million in broadband grants through state and federal funding.

Lee said the state has an "obligation" to continue expanding broadband access as more people move to the state.

“People are moving to Tennessee from across the nation in record numbers, and we have an obligation to prepare our state for continued growth,” said Lee. “Our strategic investments in broadband infrastructure will ensure our rural communities are connected and have every opportunity to thrive, and I thank the Financial Stimulus Accountability Group for managing dollars effectively to serve Tennesseans.”

Utility providers in the state that are receiving funds in this round provided roughly $331 million in matching funds to complete broadband expansion projects, meaning a total of $778 million is being invested in broadband infrastructure projects. The state said the projects must be completed within three years.

Several East Tennessee utility and service providers will receive grants, including nearly $15 million going to KUB, more than $8 million to Appalachian Electric Cooperative, and $2 million to Newport Utilities. Companies such as Comcast and TDS will also receive grants. The full list of 36 grantees can be found at the bottom of this article.

"We are proud to be a partner in this critical project and are excited to expand our network in Knox and Anderson counties. We look forward to sharing progress updates in the near future,” a spokesperson for Comcast said.

Lee said the money for the program is coming from the Tennessee Emergency Broadband Fund - American Rescue Plan. Tennessee is using a portion of federal money from the pandemic rescue fund, which was created to address the economic fallout from COVID-19 to work toward recovery. Tennessee's Fiscal Stimulus Accountability Group dedicated $500 million toward broadband from the program, with $50 million going toward broadband adoption and digital literacy efforts.

“Our world is increasingly interconnected. In order for Tennesseans to thrive in this interconnected world, broadband internet must be accessible,” said Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally (R - Oak Ridge). “These grants will greatly expand our broadband footprint in Tennessee giving our citizens the tools to access information, educate themselves and do business like never before. I’m grateful to Governor Lee and Commissioner McWhorter as well Commissioner Eley and my legislative colleagues on the Financial Stimulus Accountability Group for directing these dollars to benefit our citizens and our state.”

The U.S. Department of Treasury previously defined "unserved areas" as lacking access to a wireless connection capable of minimum speeds of 25 megabits per second download and 3 Mbps upload. However, the state said any connection that provides less than 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload is now deemed "unserved" due to increasing digital demands. 

TNECD received 218 applications requesting more than $1.2 billion, but only 75 projects were approved this round to 36 grantees. Application priority was given to providers serving areas with the slowest internet speeds.

“To achieve economic growth and prosperity, it’s imperative that Tennessee’s communities have the proper infrastructure in place,” McWhorter said. “Thanks to the $447 million awarded in funding, broadband access will be available to 36 grantees with 75 projects across 58 Tennessee counties, and we look forward to seeing how these grants spur further success among each community.”

Broadband Grant Recipients

  • Aeneas Communications, LLC

$3,680,631.00 – serving parts of Haywood and Fayette counties

  • Appalachian Electric Cooperative

$8,631,244.48 – serving parts of Jefferson, Grainger and Hamblen counties

  • Ardmore Telephone Company, Inc.

$11,446,165.50 – serving parts of Giles and Lincoln counties

  • AT&T Tennessee

$499,730.04 – serving parts of Dickson County

  • Ben Lomand

$23,912,632.40 – serving parts of Coffee and Cumberland counties

  • Board of Public Utilities of the City of Fayetteville, Lincoln County, Tennessee

$8,899,590.00 – serving parts of Lincoln County

  • Bledsoe Telephone Cooperative

$17,729,814.96 – serving parts of Bledsoe, Sequatchie and Van Buren counties

  • Bolivar Energy Authority

$20,168,743.18 – serving parts of Fayette, Chester and Madison counties

  • BTC Communications, LLC

$5,066,519.04 – serving parts of Rhea and Cumberland counties

  • Charter Communications, Inc.

$20,429,809.00 – serving parts of Benton, Carroll, Loudon, McMinn, McNairy and Meigs counties

  • Chickasaw Electric Cooperative

$13,134,933.00 – serving parts of Fayette and Hardeman counties

  • Comcast Cable Communications, LLC

$2,248,364.71 – serving parts of Anderson, Hamilton and Knox counties

  • Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation

$17,500,000.00 – serving parts of Robertson and Sumner counties

  • DeKalb Telephone Cooperative, Inc.

$15,627,524.71 – serving parts of Cannon and DeKalb counties

  • Dickson Electric Department

$860,236.23 – serving parts of Houston County

  • Gibson Electric Membership Corporation

$2,071,780.49 – serving parts of Crockett and Obion counties

  • Greeneville Energy Authority

$8,262,340.32 – serving parts of Greene County

  • Highland Communications LLC

$15,481,719.33 – serving parts of Campbell, Anderson, Claiborne and Union counties

  • Knoxville Utilities Board

$15,259,160.00 – serving parts of Jefferson, Sevier and Union counties

  • Lexington Electric System

$27,490,416.30 – serving parts of Henderson, Decatur, Benton, Carroll and Hardin counties

  • Loretto Telecom

$7,466,068.00 – serving parts of Lawrence County

  • Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative

$4,500,000.00 – serving parts of Hickman County

  • Newport Utilities

$2,457,797.35 – serving parts of Jefferson and Cocke counties

  • Peoples Telephone Company

$5,385,719.50 – serving parts of Henry, Benton and Carroll counties

  • Pulaski Electric System (PES)

$23,161,638.53 – serving parts of Giles County

  • Ritter Communications

$3,892,323.22 – serving parts of Shelby and Tipton counties

  • Scott County Telephone Co-Operative

$13,128,551.76 – serving parts of Claiborne, Hancock and Union counties

  • SkyBest Communications, Inc.

$5,700,655.92 – serving parts of Carter and Johnson counties

  • Southwest Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation

$15,503,408.78 – serving parts of Chester, Haywood and Tipton counties

  • Spring City Cable TV, Inc.

$1,925,574.21 – serving parts of Rhea, Bledsoe and Cumberland counties

  • TDS - Tellico Telephone Company

$12,958,999.00 – serving parts of Monroe County

  • Tennessee Valley Electric Cooperative

$21,847,496.68 – serving parts of Hardin and Wayne counties

  • Twin Lakes Communications, Inc.

$10,432,621.00 – serving parts of Putnam County

  • United Telephone Company

$53,362,147.00 – serving parts of Bedford, Giles, Lincoln, Moore, Maury and Williamson counties

  • Volunteer Energy Cooperative

$15,397,511.96 – serving parts of Williamson, Bradley and Polk counties

  • West Kentucky Rural Telephone Cooperative Corporation, Inc.

$12,326,355.30 – serving parts of Weakley County

    

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