Haslam signs broadband bill in Brownsville

5/17/2017

Gov. Bill Haslam signed the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act into law, a bill that will help rural communities in the state get better access to broadband Internet.

Haslam signed the bill Tuesday afternoon at H&R Agri-Power in Brownsville.

“In Tennessee, we’re committed to this idea that growth doesn’t have to happen just in some locations,” Haslam said. “We love the idea there are rural areas that are part of what makes Tennessee the Tennessee we want (it) to be. To do that, we have to have the means to communicate. We have to have people focused on rural economic growth.”

The Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act will provide $45 million over three years in grants and tax credits for service providers to assist in making broadband Internet available to “unserved” homes and businesses throughout the state.

The House and Senate approved Haslam’s bill in April. One major change from Haslam’s originally proposal was the minimum Internet speed requirement changed from 25 megabits per second to 10 megabits per second, which still qualifies as broadband.

“The reason this was hung up for so long was the telecommunications companies were saying we can’t economically serve that area of the state,” Haslam said. “On the other hand, they were saying we don’t want to compete with the government if you’re going to do it. So we tried to find middle ground, and we think this does that.”

A study last year performed by Strategic Networks Group and NEO Connect found 13 percent of Tennesseans, about 834,500 people, did not have broadband access. The same study found 34 percent of rural communities did not have broadband access. Tennessee currently ranks 29th in the nation in broadband access.

Gubernatorial candidate Randy Boyd, who was the state economic and community development commissioner when the legislation was first proposed, said for health care, education and businesses to be more successful in rural communities, having broadband access is crucial.

“It’s critical for our state to be able to make sure all of our rural communities are sharing the success of our state,” Boyd said. “Having broadband is a key infrastructure for them to be successful. We simply weren’t going to be successful in our rural communities if this bill hadn’t passed.”

Stanton Mayor Allan Sterbinsky, whose town has a population of 452, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, said this bill is a lifeline for rural communities.

“If you want Internet access, Comcast is the only one who runs to Stanton,” he said. “How else am I going to get my Internet access? With this broadband (act) it’s a whole different ballgame. Now I have multiple choices to make, and it gives me that lifeline, so that our kids can get on the Internet and do their schoolwork.”

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by OMER YUSUF

The East Tennessee Economic Development Agency markets and recruits business for the 15 counties in the greater Knoxville-Oak Ridge region of East Tennessee. Visit www.eteda.org

Back to News Listing