Rural Broadband

Tennessee is awarding $446,770,282 in grants for expanding broadband access across the state. The grants will go to 36 companies, including large operators AT&T, Charter and Comcast.

AT&T’s grant is for less than $500,000 and and Comcast’s is for $2.2 million. Charter will receive one of the largest grants — for $20.4 million.

The biggest winner in the announcement is United Telephone Company, which will receive over $53.3 million. Despite the name used in this funding round, United is actually owned by Middle Tennessee EMC, and operates as United Communications. Several other electric utilities also will receive awards exceeding $20 million.

All told, the broadband infrastructure grants in the Volunteer State will provide broadband access to more than 150,000 unserved homes and businesses across 58 counties.

According to the FCC’s 2020 Broadband Deployment Report, 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.

Any areas lacking connectivity at speeds of at least 100 Mbps download speed and 20 Mbps upload speed is now deemed “unserved,” according to a press release about the Tennessee broadband awards. But application priority was given to areas lacking service at 25/3 Mbps speeds.

“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 Gov. Bill Lee in a prepared statement. “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.”

With the awards, Tennessee joins several other states that have announced broadband funding programs in the past few months. Others that have announced recently include North Carolina, Vermont, Arizona and Maryland. Some programs are funded, at least in part, through programs created in the ARPA and the CARES Act. More federal broadband money will flow to the states once the BEAD program gets underway.

Joan Engebretson contributed to this report

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