September 20, 2022
By: Dwayne Page
DeKalb Telephone Cooperative (dba) DTC Communications is being awarded over $15.6 million in a grant for the expansion of internet access serving parts of DeKalb and Cannon counties. The total comes to $15,627,524.71
The award was included in an announcement by made last week by Tennessee Governor Bill Lee and Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (TNECD) Commissioner Stuart McWhorter that the state will fund $446,770,282 in grants for the expansion of internet access across the state of Tennessee.
In total, the broadband infrastructure grants will provide broadband access to more than 150,000 unserved homes and businesses across 58 counties.
“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 Governor Bill 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.”
According to the 2020 Broadband Deployment Report published by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), one in six rural Tennesseans lacks access to broadband. Since 2018, TNECD has awarded nearly $120 million in broadband grants through state and federal funding to serve more than 140,000 Tennessee households.
“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.”
The U.S. Department of the Treasury previously defined “unserved areas” as lacking access to a wireless connection capable of minimum speeds of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. However, due to the increasing demands of the digital age, any connection that provides lower than 100 Mbps download speed and 20 Mbps upload speed is now deemed “unserved.” In consideration of this new definition, application priority was still given to those with the lowest internet speeds, but all applications under this new definition of “unserved” were considered.
Funding for these grants comes through the Tennessee Emergency Broadband Fund – American Rescue Plan (TEBF-ARP), which utilizes a portion of the state’s federal American Rescue Plan funds to address the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic and work toward a strong recovery. Tennessee’s Fiscal Stimulus Accountability Group (FSAG) dedicated $500 million to broadband funding from this program, with more than $446 million going to infrastructure and nearly $50 million going to 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.”
“Tennessee has experienced considerable growth across all regions of our state over the past decade. Through this significant investment in our broadband infrastructure, more citizens will have the option to access high-speed broadband services at work, in their homes and in schools,” said Speaker Cameron Sexton (R – Crossville). “I appreciate Governor Lee, Lieutenant Governor McNally, Commissioner McWhorter, Commissioner Eley and members of the Fiscal Stimulus Accountability Group for their effective, committed partnership as we all continue working together to increase the reliability of services throughout the state.”
“Broadband is crucial for our rural communities to grow and thrive,” said Senator Bo Watson (R – Hixson).
“Because of our conservative approach to fiscal management, we have the ability to invest in important projects like broadband expansion that will fuel future economic growth. I am confident this investment will yield great returns for our state and its citizens.”
“In today’s world, reliable broadband is as essential as water and electricity,” said Representative Patsy Hazlewood (R – Signal Mountain). “This expansion will be transformative for Tennessee families and businesses by removing barriers to commerce, health care and educational opportunities as well as other necessities of modern life.”
For this round of funding, TNECD received 218 applications requesting over $1.2 billion.
The final grants will be distributed across 75 applications submitted by 36 grantees, all of whom will provide broadband to various unserved regions of Tennessee. These grantees are a range of internet service providers, including electrical and telephone cooperatives, local municipalities, private providers and cable companies. These grant recipients were chosen through a rigorous criterion, which included the need of the grant area, the ability to complete the project and strong community support.
Grantees will provide approximately $331 million in matching funds to complete these projects for a combined investment of $778 million in new broadband infrastructure projects across the state. These projects must be completed within three years.