Solving Tennessee’s Broadband Digital Divide
Part of what makes Tennessee a truly great state is its diversity. On one end of the state, we have some of the highest mountains in the Eastern U.S., and on the other side, we have the rich Mississippi Delta. We have thriving big cities and wonderful small towns. We have the Home of the Blues and the Mother Church of Country Music.
But while the geographic and cultural differences between regions of our state make us strong, the “digital divide” present in some areas of Tennessee is a major weakness for communities on the wrong side of that divide.
Some Tennesseans enjoy world-class broadband service, while residents in other pockets are completely unserved by a broadband provider.
At TTA, our goal is for every Tennessean to have access to a powerful, life-changing broadband connection. That’s why we’ve decided that the theme for this year’s TTA’s annual meeting and convention will be “Solving Tennessee’s Broadband Digital Divide.”
As always, I’m excited to see old friends, learn about the latest technology and strategies shaping our industry, and better get to know the new faces who have joined us. But I think this year, in the wake of the legislature passing the governor’s Broadband Accessibility Act, the sessions and networking time will center around bridging that digital divide. We are blessed to have many of brightest minds in telecom all under one roof at the conference. I’m certainly looking forward to hearing the ideas and seeing what progress we can make toward leveling the online playing field across our great state. I hope you’ll join us. View the full conference agenda.
Broadband Accessibility Act is meaningful legislation
The recently passed Broadband Accessibility Act is meaningful in every sense of the word.
First of all, it’s meaningful to rural Tennesseeans who now have a much better opportunity to be served with a broadband connection that is so critical to their quality of life.
It’s meaningful to TTA members who now have opportunities and incentives to expand their networks through grants and partnerships.
It’s certainly meaningful to Gov. Bill Haslam and the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Mark Norris and Rep. David Hawk. The administration took a calculated political risk by making this bill one of its key pieces of legislation this session, and that has proven to be a wise decision.
But for just a moment, I’d like to talk about how meaningful the passage of this bill is for TTA. The final version of this bill reflects years of effort on multiple fronts from TTA and its members. I am so pleased that all of our hard work had an impact.
TTA members have made a special effort to meet with legislators in the districts over the past two or three years, adding to the awareness at our Day on the Hill visits each February.
Our lobbying team at The Capitol Strategy Group, including Kim Adkins, Steve Buttry and Randy Button were essential to TTA members having the attention of our legislators with all of the other issues demanding their focus during the sessions. We also worked with communications partners Cooley Strategies and WordSouth to garner media coverage and engage our members through efforts such as this newsletter and our website.
I’ll be the first to say the bill is not perfect, but considering where the discussion was two or three years ago, this bill is certainly a positive outcome for TTA members. TTA and our allies were able to shift legislators’ focus away from the municipal providers that would have unfairly pitted government agencies against private companies and instead direct them toward shaping policy to center on electric cooperatives — providing a chance for some valuable partnership opportunities.
It’s been a privilege to represent our industry on this important legislation, and I believe TTA members and their rural customers will be able to look back at the passage of this act and say it’s an example of what Tennessee’s rural telcos can do when they work together. With that in mind, TTA is now focused on other issues at hand, including the long-standing ad valorem tax disparity many of our members face.
One thing we know going forward, Tennessee’s rural telcos have made our voices heard in the halls of state government, and we will continue to fight for our members and their customers.
State leaders from across the Southeast have been hard at work making their voices heard in Washington about broadband issues in rural America. Here are a few photos taken during some of their recent trips.
Governor’s legislation provides grants, opens way to electric coops
The Tennessee Telecommunications Association said Monday that passage of the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act is a good first step toward making broadband available to more rural Tennesseans.
“This is a major step in the right direction,” said Levoy Knowles, executive director of TTA.
“As providers of high-speed broadband and fiber to a large portion of rural Tennessee, we know there are still places that need to get connected. This is an issue that won’t be fixed overnight.
“But our members, both the independent companies and the cooperatives, are optimistic about working with the electric coops to make broadband available to many more rural Tennesseans.”
David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of TECA, said:
“The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association supports the Governor’s Broadband Accessibility Act. Expanded access to high-speed Internet in rural areas can have a profound impact on job creation, economic investment, education, and health care.
“Electric and telephone co-ops serve the state’s most rural and economically disadvantaged regions. The Governor’s legislation will now allow electric cooperatives to play a vital role in bringing broadband to these underserved areas.
“With our joint dedication and presence in these rural areas, electric and telephone cooperatives have a great opportunity to work together to meet this challenge.”
The Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act is a signature piece of Governor Haslam’s 2017 legislative initiatives. It is aimed at promoting expansion of broadband into unserved rural areas. Some of the provisions:
• Allows electric coops to provide broadband service separately from their electric power service.
• Also permits the electric coops to provide video/cable TV service.
• Provides $30 million in grants and $15 million in tax breaks to encourage expansion of rural broadband into areas without access.
TTA represents 21 independent and cooperatively owned telecom cooperatives and independent companies that make high-speed broadband or fiber available to more than 136,000 rural Tennesseans. They have installed more than 12,000 miles of fiber in rural areas across the state.