$447 million broadband infrastructure investments announced for dozens of TN counties

State officials recently announced $447 million in broadband infrastructure investments for three dozen counties in Tennessee including Dickson, Robertson and Sumner Counties.

$446,770,282 in grants will be awarded for the expansion of internet access across Tennessee, according to a Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development press release.

Nearly $50 million more will be directed to broadband adoption and digital literacy efforts.

Thanks to the state’s grant, more than 150,000 unserved homes and businesses in 58 counties will receive broadband access.

“People are moving to Tennessee from across the nation in record numbers, and we have an obligation to prepare our state for continued growth,” Gov. Bill Lee said.

“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.”

Via state and federal funding, TNECD has awarded nearly $120 million in broadband grants to more than 140,000 households since 2018.

A lack of access to broadband infrastructure in Tennessee is more common than some would think as one in six rural residents do without, according to the 2020 Broadband Deployment Report published by the Federal Communications Commission.

Due to the increasing demands of the digital age, connections providing lower than 100 Mbps download speed and 20 Mbps upload speed have been deemed “unserved” by the U.S. Department of the Treasury – where “unserved areas” were previously defined as providing minimum speeds of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload.

Priority was given to applicants with the lowest internet speeds, though all who fell under the new definition of “unserved” were considered for the grant.

“To achieve economic growth and prosperity, it’s imperative that Tennessee’s communities have the proper infrastructure in place,” TNECD Commissioner Stuart 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.”

The Broadband Accessibility Grant Program

A critical part of the state’s plan to address broadband gaps, the Broadband Accessibility Grant Program aims to offset capital expenses of deployment in unserved areas.

Areas unlikely to receive broadband service without grant funding are targeted by the program.

Investment, deregulation and education – three main initiatives of the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act – work to provide broadband access to unserved areas through funding, warrant and authorization efforts.

In establishing the Broadband Accessibility Grant Program, TBAA has provided grant funding to broadband providers to encourage deployment to unserved homes and businesses since 2018, including $10 million in 2018, $15 million in 2019, and $20 million in 2020.

Unserved areas of Sumner County were awarded TNECD Rural Broadband Grant funds in 2018 and 2019, during the first and second rounds of state funding.

Unserved areas of Cheatham and Dickson Counties received funds in 2020 during the state’s third round of funding.

218 applicants requesting more than $1.2 billion applied to TNECD’s current round of funding this year.

Grants will be distributed across 75 applications submitted by 36 grantees, all of whom will provide broadband to various unserved regions of Tennessee, according to the press release.

A couple of the three dozen grant recipients include AT&T Tennessee – serving parts of Dickson County – awarded $499,730.04 and Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation – serving parts of Robertson and Sumner counties – awarded $17,500,000.00.

Representing a range of internet service providers, including electrical and telephone cooperatives, local municipalities, private providers and cable companies, applicants were chosen based on metrics like location, ability to complete the project and strong community support.

To complete the projects within three years about $331 million in matching funds will be provided by grant recipients, for a combined investment of $778 million across Tennessee.

An updated version of the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Map, scheduled to be released sometime this fall, will include information, searchable by address, for all 95 counties by covering broadband availability, speeds and technology types.

For more information on Tennessee’s broadband initiatives, visit tn.gov/broadband.

Katie Nixon can be reached at knixon@gannett.com or (615) 517-1285.

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: $447 million broadband infrastructure investments announced for dozens of TN counties