Broadband accessibility for all counties across the state continues to be one of TNECD’s most important initiatives. Today, not all of Tennessee’s 95 counties have reliable access to broadband, but with the assistance of the Broadband Accessibility Act, established in 2016, Tennessee is working hard to rectify this issue in our state.
Through the Broadband Accessibility Act, TNECD and the Tennessee General Assembly expanded the funding available for broadband deployment across the state. With more than 70 applications submitted in the first year of the program, it became clear that additional resources and funding sources were needed to continue to address the lack of connectivity in Tennessee. With additional resources comes new partnership opportunities. TNECD has now partnered with the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) to help expand critical infrastructure including broadband and telecommunications. ARC is a federal-state partnership that invests in community and economic development projects in the Appalachian regions of Tennessee and 12 other states.
Through our partnership with ARC and the allocation of ARC funds, TNECD has supported several additional projects, including broadband expansion projects with Newport Utilities and SVEC Connect. Erwin Utilities and Volunteer Electric Co-op qualified for broadband expansion funding through the ARC POWER program for communities impacted by the loss of coal jobs. Other communities are expanding Wi-Fi in their downtown business and tourism districts through ARC funding.
Counties across the state are taking full advantage of the opportunities that are being provided by the State and ARC. Below are a few examples of how Tennessee communities are using funds to support their citizens.
The Sweetwater ARC Grant will be used toward economic development by making free public Wi-Fi available throughout its downtown district. This new public Wi-Fi will help draw visitors, incentivize entrepreneurs and allow students a great environment to utilize technology. Not only will this drive more traffic to the public spaces available in Sweetwater and to its downtown district, which is experiencing great revitalization, it will provide free Wi-Fi in a centralized area to an underserved population.
Visitors to downtown Tullahoma can now enjoy complimentary Wi-Fi on their smart phones, tablets and other mobile devices with the assistance of Tullahoma’s ARC grant funding. ARC funds have allowed the city to launch its new wireless network as part of a larger strategic plan developed through participation in the Cool & Connected federal planning assistance program. With the latest broadband grant, ARC funds will provide the downtown Wi-Fi system with the required service needed to provide 80mbps download/40mbps upload to the access points.
Receiving ARC support was crucial to enabling Newport to extend broadband infrastructure and service deployment to this community. Cocke County has historically had high unemployment rates and low per capita income. One of the greatest benefits broadband brings to this area is the capacity to overcome the physical and economic disadvantages that has limited the prospects of area residents and businesses. While the area is widely recognized as a hotspot for outdoor tourism due to its access to surrounding mountains and lakes, the rural and often remote nature of its geography presents a challenge to broadband deployment. As a result, much of the area is unserved. With the assistance of ARC funds, by 2019 Newport and its surrounding areas will be connected to Newport Utilities (NU) fiber broadband infrastructure, which was established in parts of the county in 2017, jump-starting growth of investment and jobs in the area.
To learn more about broadband in Tennessee and to see what resources are available for your county, visit tn.gov/ecd/rural-development/tnecd-broadband-initiative.