Cable providers continue to work hard to provide broadband access for Tennesseans| Opinion
The COVID-19 pandemic drastically changed entire the world in the early spring of 2020. Suddenly, so many aspects of our daily life were required to transition online rather quickly.
The transition required broad access to fast, reliable internet so employees could keep working, students could keep learning, patients could still see their doctors and families could remain connected. Tennessee’s cable providers rose to that challenge and delivered.
Tennessee’s cable providers—Comcast, Charter, Vyve, Mediacom and others— responded quickly and earnestly to get our fellow Tennesseans connected. Adoption programs were expanded to include 60 days of free service to new customers, increase speeds to meet demand and provided complimentary WiFi hotspots throughout our service areas.
The rapidly increasing demand for internet services have put incredible strains on existing broadband infrastructure, but cable providers worked around the clock to ensure that Tennesseans received their internet service to continue on through uncharted waters.
How we partnered with the federal government to help Americans
Recognizing the unprecedented challenges presented by the pandemic, Cable providers joined the federal government in critical relief programs to ensure that internet services maintained for those who needed it most.
We partnered with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on the “Keep Americans Connected Pledge,” assuring customers that their services would not be terminated because of their inability to pay due to the pandemic.
We continue to participate in the FCC’s Emergency Broadband Benefit to help eligible low-income families afford quality internet service. As Americans were looking to learn more about the novel coronavirus, we provided several million dollars in public service advertising to help educate Tennesseans on the spread of COVID-19 and the disease’s effects.
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Concrete steps to continue closing the digital divide
Our cable providers continue to be committed to connecting low-income families to high-speed broadband through affordable services, access to digital literacy training and quality technical support.
In recent years, these adoption programs have expanded to offer low-cost, high-speed internet services to students receiving free and/or reduced-price lunch, low-income seniors, federal housing recipients, low-income veterans, individuals with disabilities and now students eligible for federal Pell grants, among others.
The effort really took off with Comcast’s Internet Essentials program in 2011. To-date, 550,000 low-income Tennesseans are connected through similar comprehensive adoption programs offered by Cable providers, and this number only continues to grow.
While we have made encouraging progress to close the digital divide in the last two years, there's still more work to be done. More than 400,000 Tennesseans are still lacking broadband access, and Cable is committed to getting our remaining neighbors connected.
To that end, Charter is expanding broadband services to over 79,000 unserved households in TN over the next several years— cutting the number of unserved in half. Comcast and others are also expanding service to unserved populations throughout the state.
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There's still more work to do
While life may have changed in what seemed like overnight, cable’s success in meeting the challenge was made possible by the solid foundation the industry has built over the last decade. Cable providers have invested more than $2.4 billion to build broadband infrastructure throughout the state in the last 10 years— improving both speed and access to reliable internet for hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans.
We’ll continue to make the critical investments necessary to continue expanding access and internet speeds. We’re lucky to have committed partners at the federal and state levels.
We’re partnering with state and local governments to ensure millions of dollars set aside for broadband in the American Rescue Plan (ARP) and the recently passed Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework are used wisely to connect unserved and underserved areas in Tennessee. With support from Governor Bill Lee, Tennessee’s Fiscal Stimulus Accountability Group recently committed $500 million from ARP funding for broadband deployment and adoption.
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Earlier this year, Governor Lee and the state’s General Assembly committed an additional $100 million to the state’s budget for further rural broadband expansion.
It is critically important that these federal and state dollars are used to deploy and encourage new adoption of broadband, rather than simply build over current providers and their existing coverage areas. That would be the broadband equivalent of “reinventing the wheel,” with a much smaller return on investment on taxpayer dollars.
The world will only continue to be more digital-dependent, not less. Being connected is more important now than ever. Cable providers will continue to provide the resilient infrastructure, robust networks and comprehensive services that our customers in Tennessee can rely on in the Digital Age.
Amy Martin is the president of the Tennessee Cable and Broadband Association.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: The cable industry stepped up to close the digital divide during COVID