Tennessee invests nearly $450 million towards expanding broadband

The biggest investments go towards rural communities and speeding up their internet access.
Published: Sep. 21, 2022 at 7:15 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Tennessee is investing hundreds of millions of dollars towards expanding broadband access to rural communities.

It’s nearly $447 million worth of grant funding. That money will be dished out across several counties and utility companies throughout the state. County leaders in rural communities said their slice of the pie is going to go a long way.

“It was just great news for Cumberland County,” said Allen Foster, mayor of Cumberland County.

Foster said the county is set to receive $26.5 million from the state to improve broadband access throughout the county. Some of that money is going to be matched by local cooperatives, bringing the total to around $44 million. Foster said that money will go a long way towards running broadband cables to rural areas.

“At one point, they were saying it was about, on average $25,000 a mile to run,” he said.

Foster said that’s a big deal, considering the vast rural population in the county. He said they’ve gotten at least a handful of other similar grants from the state since 2020, but this one is by far the biggest.

He said his constituents have been frustrated with slow internet for a long time, but the ongoing projects are creating excitement in the community.

“Four years ago, people didn’t even see it as a possibility, and now they see, hey it’s coming,” the mayor said.

Knoxville Utilities Board is getting $15.2 million of grant money too. That will be used to bring faster broadband to portions of Union, Granger, Jefferson, and Sevier counties. KUB officials hear the frustrations from those customers.

“They say there are no options. In order to do education, and health, and business,” said Jamie Davis, Vice President of Fiber for KUB.

Davis said the grant money turns the broadband projects in those counties into a priority.

“It moves it up on our time frame very, very much,” said Davis. “Without these grants, we may be years away from getting to these areas.”

The grant money has to be used within three years. Both Davis and Foster said that money will be put to use fairly quickly.

With the explosion of working from home and remote learning the last couple of years, Foster said faster internet speed is easily the biggest concern he hears about from his constituents. He’s hopeful this latest grant will bring everybody up to speed.