AEC receives broadband accessibility grants

Appalachian Electric Cooperative received a Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Grant from Gov. Bill Lee and Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe Friday.

The grant, in the amount of $919,500, went to AEC for expanding high speed fiber optic broadband services to unserved or underserved citizens in Grainger County.

The grant area includes a section west of Rutledge towards Owl Hole Gap, including the New Corinth and Buffalo Springs areas. This will allow AEC to focus efforts not only on the grant area but the adjacent portions of Grainger County, as well. More than 1,000 homes will be affected by this grant.

Engineering work for Co-Op members served by the Rutledge and Oakland substations has been completed and AEC plans to provide broadband access to these areas within two years.

This is the 4th Tennessee Grant that AEC has received for broadband accessibility in their rural service area.

According to Director of Member Services Mitch Cain, the Co-Op is very appreciative of the state for funding such important work for rural Tennesseans.

“The strong relationship and diligent work of local elected officials is vital to this success,” Cain said. “We extend our appreciation to State Senators Frank Niceley and Steve Southerland for their continued support and to Representatives Jerry Sexton, Andrew Farmer, Jeremy Faison and Rick Eldridge for working tirelessly for the people of East Tennessee. Their efforts to support funding such as this goes a long way in building out a very expensive project.”

Cain also said that Grainger County Mayor Mike Byrd has long been a huge proponent of bringing high seed broadband to Grainger County. The strong partnership between AEC and Grainger County will serve this project well as the project moves forward.

The grant is part of $14.9 million in broadband accessibility grants that will expand service to support 17,800 unserved residents in 7,120 homes in businesses in Tennessee.

“Every Tennessean should have access to the same high-speed broadband, no matter what zip code they live in,” said Gov. Lee. “Our continued investment in internet connectivity will help level the playing field for rural communities across our state, and I thank these 13 providers for partnering with us to help nearly 18,000 more Tennesseans get connected.”

In his recent State of the State address, Lee proposed a record investment of $200 million to achieve a goal of every Tennessean having access to high-speed broadband. This proposal, combined with significant private sector investment, will help improve educational outcomes, expand access to health care, increase e-commerce and support small businesses in rural communities across the state.

According to the Federal Communications Commission’s 2020 Broadband Deployment Report, 1 in 6 rural Tennesseans lack access to broadband. Since 2018, TNECD has awarded nearly $60 million in grants through the Broadband Accessibility Grant Program to serve more than 33,000 homes and businesses, and more than 83,000 Tennesseans.

“As many of us have transitioned to a lifestyle of working, telecommuting and learning from home, we have seen how much we rely on broadband, and those who do not have access are placed at a significant disadvantage,” Rolfe said. “With the support of Governor Lee and the General Assembly, we will be able to connect more than 7,000 previously unserved homes and businesses to broadband service, positioning rural Tennessee for future success.”

This is the fourth round of the Broadband Accessibility Grant program, which remains highly competitive. TNECD received grant applications requesting more than $40 million in funding.

The 13 grant recipients demonstrated a high need for grant funding as well as the ability to implement and sustain the projects long-term with strong community support.

Grantees will provide $21.1 million in matching funds to complete the projects for a combined investment of $36 million across the state. Infrastructure should be built out within two years of receiving the grant funds.