The rural areas of Jefferson and Grainger counties received a huge boost on Friday.
The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development presented four grant checks to the two counties and Appalachian Electric Cooperative at AEC’s location in New Market for several area improvement projects.
TNECD Commissioner Bob Rolfe said the grant money wouldn’t have been available for the area without the hard work from State Senators Frank Nicely, R- Strawberry Plains, and Steve Southerland, R-Morristown.
“Thank you to the General Assembly for the support,” Rolfe said. “Without you, we wouldn’t have a chance to give the people this kind of support to the community.”
The town of Dandridge received a $370,984 Community Development Block Grant, which will be used for sewer system improvements. Jefferson County was issued a CDBG in the amount of $460,057 for an extension of its water lines.
“These grants are important for rural areas like Jefferson County,” said Greg Williams, AEC general manager. “This will extend our services to areas that greatly need those improvements.”
AEC received a pair of grant checks totaling over $2 million for expanding broadband internet services into Jefferson and Grainger counties. Last year, Gov. Bill Lee announced $14.8 million in broadband accessibility grants that will expand broadband service to more than 8,300 households and businesses in 17 counties across Tennessee.
TNECD is working with the 13 grantees who demonstrated a high need for grant funding. Recipients also demonstrated the ability to implement and sustain the project long-term with strong community support.
As part of a partnership between AEC and Trilight, a broadband service provider, nearly 2,500 unserved homes and businesses will soon have high-speed internet because of those grants – and Nicely said that’s more than a big deal for the infrastructure of the area.
“When you’ve got fiber optics, you don’t want anything else,” he said. “That’s like the reaction people had when they learned they were getting electricity in 1937 when the (Tennessee Valley Authority) came to the area.”
Six hundred and fifty people in Grainger County will benefit from the project. County Mayor Mike Byrd shared Nicely’s sentiment, saying the infrastructure of his region will receive an instant boost once the project is completed.
“Imagine the increased tourism and business we can make happen with just one (gigabyte) of service that we will have in Grainger County,” Byrd said.
Rolfe said it made no sense parts of Jefferson County had no high speed internet when Knoxville is just 30 minutes away from most of those residents. Those residents should have the same amenities as the people of Knoxville, or his home in Nashville.
“We live in Nashville, and the thought of not having a phone – or two phones – or not even having a tablet, is unthinkable,” he said. “However, for many people in rural areas, they still don’t have broadband.”
According to the FCC’s 2018 Broadband Deployment Report, nearly one in four rural Tennesseans lack access to broadband.
In addition to the $20 million included in Lee’s recommended budget for fiscal year 2020, these grants will continue to close the access gap ensuring rural Tennesseans have the tools needed for growth and prosperity.