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State, utilities aim to close digital divide

Posted 1/14/23

FRANKLIN — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Stuart McWhorter, and United Communications officially launched on Monday $53.4 million in …

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State, utilities aim to close digital divide

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FRANKLIN — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Stuart McWhorter, and United Communications officially launched on Monday $53.4 million in grant-backed projects—the single largest investment of its kind in state history—to expand internet service to more than 14,000 underserved homes and businesses in Middle Tennessee.

United’s grant project areas include portions of Bedford, Franklin, Giles, Lincoln, Marshall, Maury, Moore, and Williamson Counties.

Bedford County Mayor Chad Graham said at Tuesday’s Board of Commissioners meeting that, “We were fortunate enough to go [Monday] and meet with the governor and get a photo op for the $4.4 million, which is the state’s contribution to our broadband expansion that we’re granted along with United Communications and Duck River Electric.”

United Communications and its partners applied for the grants in 2022 through Project UNITE, the company’s initiative to bridge the digital divide in Middle Tennessee.

“It’s a critical component of infrastructure...Sometimes we think about water and gas-lines and sewer, and all those things are true. But in this day and in this society, it’s a no-go without high-speed internet,” said Graham.

Bedford’s ARP funds that were received during the 2020 pandemic allowed the county to be eligible to receive the grant. “It’s going to touch all those areas that the federal government identified as not serviced,” said Graham.

Based on recent census data, rural Tennesseans are ten times more likely than their neighbors in urban areas to lack access to fast, reliable internet connections.

Commissioner Greg Vick said at the meeting that the governor and Commissioner McWhorter said there is going to be $1 billion where federal money is going to transition itself across the country.

“We don’t know how much Tennessee is going to get from that, but we do know there is going to be a funding formula that’s going to be developed for broadband,” said Vick. This would probably target the most remote areas first.

“What happens in rural Tennessee matters to every Tennessean,” said Governor Lee. “This is the largest grant of all the grants that the state has made in our history for the expansion of broadband, and it’s a local effort based on local partnerships. We have the number one economy in America, and we need to make sure that is happening in every community across the state. We know that access to technology will make that happen.”

The $53.4 million state grant is being supplemented by a $14 million investment from United Communications and more than $10 million committed by county governments, resulting in a total infrastructure investment of over $77 million in Middle Tennessee.

“Rural development and economic development are important for the state,” said Commissioner McWhorter. “We value our local partners, and what we’re announcing today is another example of why those partnerships work.”

The event took place at Allenbrooke Farms in Spring Hill, Tennessee during an event attended by over 100 Project UNITE partners, including representatives from Middle Tennessee Electric and Duck River Electric.

“United was founded 75 years ago by farmers and rural neighbors who wanted to connect to one another,” remarked William Bradford, President and CEO of United Communications. “We’re here 75 years later with largely the same mission. Through Project UNITE, we’ve brought service to over 17,000 locations, and we’re just getting started.”

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  • Van Ayers

    These $53.4 million are from the American Rescue Plan funding. Not a single of the Tennessee Republican delegation voted for this bill.. This includes our two US Senators, Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty and our US Representative Scott DesJarlais. Looks like a bunch of folks getting credit for something that our Tennessee politicians did not want you to have. If you want to thank someone, at least invite a few Democrats to the photo op - their folks supported this initiative.

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