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The state of Tennessee announces $163 million in funding for broadband expansion

The state of Tennessee announces 3 million in funding for broadband expansion

Dickson Electric System Ignite Broadband Initial Installations 2
A project phase map for Dickson Electric System’s Ignite Broadband, including the first successful customer installations, which were completed in January in Zone 1, located in Cumberland Furnace, of Phase 1. PHOTO COURTESY OF IGNITE BROADBAND BY DICKSON ELECTRIC SYSTEM
20240430 Tennessee Broadband Expansion Grant 1
Cumberland Electric Membership Cooperative crews working to build Cumberland Connect’s broadband internet network. PHOTO COURTESY OF CUMBERLAND ELECTRIC MEMBERSHIP COOPERATIVE

The state of Tennessee will award $162.7 million in broadband and digital opportunity grants, according to a press release from Tennessee Governor Bill Lee and Department of Economic and Community Development Commission Stuart C. McWhorter.

According to McWhorter, the latest round of grants will invest a total of $715 million in broadband infrastructure across the state. The press release also states that the funding will assist with programs to provide training for Internet technology and other broadband-related jobs.

“Today, a total of $97.2 million is funded by the Last Mile and Middle Mile infrastructure programs, and $65.5 million will be invested in digital opportunity programs. These initiatives are part of a broader strategy to ensure that by 2028, all residents have access to high-speed internet and opportunities to develop digital skills, access high-quality tech jobs, connect to broadband devices and access online learning and telehealth resources. “, the press release said.

The TNECD is launching four new programs with the latest round of funding: Digital Skills, Employment and Workforce Development (DSEW), which will provide training and education programs for digital skills and workforce development; Connected Community Facilities, which will provide funding to build and renew spaces that enable digital advancements in the workforce, healthcare and education; Broadband Ready Communities, which will offer digital skills training, public Wi-Fi hotspots, free and low-cost connectivity equipment, and marketing for low-cost Internet plans; and Tennessee College of Applied Technology Broadband Workforce grants, which allow TCAT campuses to offer a Telecommunications Electronics Technician diploma, which trains recipients in who should deploy and manage broadband infrastructure.

Of the $97.2 million in grants awarded through the Last Mile and Middle Mile Infrastructure Program, $1,364,758.72 will be awarded to Dickson Electric System, which began offering high-speed Internet service to customers through its Internet division in 2023 Ignite Broadband.

The lack of access to high-speed internet is a challenge for many rural communities, including those in Cheatham County. In the past, residents relied on the cable, cell, or local phone or satellite Internet companies for their services, but many found that the larger cable companies across the country would not provide services, and cell or satellite connections proved to be flawed at first glance . best. The Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act, passed in 2018, gave rural electric utilities the right to offer broadband internet service to their customers, but six years later the wait continues for some.

Cheatham County is served by four different electric utilities: Cumberland Electric Membership Cooperative, Dickson Electric System, Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Cooperative and Nashville Electric System. Of the four, only Nashville Electric Service does not offer any form of Internet service to its electric customers, and according to the NES Phone Media Team, NES has no plans to offer it either.

CEMC, which operates its Internet service under the name Cumberland Connect, has expanded its fiber-optic Internet network to all of its customers in Cheatham County, according to CC Manager of Broadband Division Mark Cook.

MTEMC, which offers broadband through its United Communications arm, plans to expand its network with funding from the federal Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program, launching later this year, according to MTEMC Communications & Marketing Consultant Larry Rose. The expansion cards haven’t been finalized yet, but Rose said customers can sign up on MTEMC’s website for updates in their region.

DES, which serves the lion’s share of Cheatham County south of the Cumberland River, plans to tentatively launch Ignite Broadband service in the area by 2026, according to Broadband Business Development Manager Elizabeth Kuhns. The state grant money will help set up service for customers at Cumberland Furnace, Kuhns said, but DES is applying for BEAD funding to help build the Ignite network in Cheatham County.

DES IB Director of Broadband Operations highlighted the enormous scope of building the fiber broadband infrastructure from the ground up.

‘I don’t think you should forget that we are building a 4,000 kilometer network. It’s just a big project, we have all our construction, splicing and installation, that’s all part of the process,” he said.

Cheatham County resident Margaret Brady Wilkerson, whose home is serviced by CEMC, described life before and after CC became available.

“Before we got access to fiber through Cumberland Connect, we couldn’t make calls from home, we couldn’t work effectively from home, and we didn’t have reliable access to streaming services. This meant that during COVID, everyone in our house had to turn off their phones and other devices if, for example, I had a Zoom (meeting). It was also about safety. Since we don’t have cell service at our home, Cumberland Connect allows my family to access emergency services if necessary or call each other if something urgent is happening. We got fiber optic last fall. It was a game changer,” Wilkerson said.

However, for Veronica Warren Smith, who lives in the NES service area, life without access to broadband is, as she describes it, “a nightmare,” and she has to resort to using unreliable satellite internet for $200 a month. Due to the unreliability of available connections, Smith said she lost her work-from-home job.

“I’ve never had any problems with high-speed internet and assumed that everyone had this access these days. Boy, was I wrong!” said Smith.

For more information about CEMC CC, visit CumberlandConnect.org/. For more information about DES IB, visit www.DicksonElectric.com/ignite-home/. For more information about MTEMC UC, visit United.net/.