The Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act, which could increase broadband access to Tennessee’s rural unserved citizens, would greatly benefit Coffee County, according to Mayor Gary Cordell.
The bill was signed by the House Speaker Beth Harwell on April 12, and is expected to be signed by Gov. Bill Haslam.
Tennessee currently ranks 29th in the U.S. for broadband access.
While only 2 percent of the state’s urban citizens lack access, 34 percent of rural residents are without coverage at recognized minimum standards due to low population density and challenging geography.
“We are finding out that access to broadband is very important to businesses,” Cordell said. “That’s one of the top three criteria on businesses’ lists when they want to look for a location. That’s critically important.”
Access to broadband will also improve education, according to Cordell.
“It’s important for our school children,” Cordell said. “A lot of our children in our rural areas still do not have service. We are trying to get (broadband access) to them as quickly as we can, so they can better compete within the school system and with students they will be going to college with some day.”
With a focus on private sector broadband deployment, the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act addresses broadband access and adoption by addressing investment, deregulation and education.
The legislation, coupled with Haslam’s proposed budget, provides $45 million over three years through grants and tax credits that focus on the state’s unserved areas.
It establishes the “Broadband Accessibility Grant Program,” providing $30 million over a three-year period ($10 million per year) to broadband providers to encourage deployment to unserved homes and businesses.
The bill provides a tax credit to private service providers totaling $15 million over three years ($5 million per year) based on the purchase of broadband equipment used to provide broadband access in their most economically challenged counties.
The governor’s proposal permits the state’s private, nonprofit electric cooperatives to provide broadband service.
Electric cooperatives, currently restricted from providing retail broadband services, are uniquely situated to assist in bridging the broadband accessibility gap with experience serving areas with lower population densities and providing universal service throughout their territories.
The legislation strengthens protections that prevent electric cooperatives from using electric system assets to subsidize broadband services and ensures that cooperative participation in the broadband market will not limit consumers’ choices.
Public and private programs can address broadband adoption through training and assistance. Through the state’s Rural Task Force and other coordinated efforts, existing programs and resources can be evaluated and leveraged to drive broadband adoption.
The bill provides grant funding opportunities to the state’s local libraries to help residents improve their digital literacy skills and maximize the benefits of broadband.
According to www.broadband.gov, broadband includes several high-speed transmission technologies, such as Digital Subscriber Line (DSL), cable modem, fiber, wireless, satellite and Broadband over Powerlines (BPL).
DSL is a wireline transmission technology that utilizes traditional copper telephone lines already installed to homes and businesses. The availability and speed of DSL service may depend on the distance from the home or business to the closest telephone company facility.
Cable modem service enables cable operators to provide broadband using the same coaxial cables delivering pictures and sound to your TV set.
Fiber optic technology converts electrical signals carrying data to light and sends the light through glass fibers. Fiber transmits data at speeds far exceeding DSL or cable modem.
Wireless broadband connects a home or business to the internet using a radio link between the customer’s location and the service provider’s facility. Wireless broadband can be mobile or fixed.
Satellite is a form of wireless broadband. Just as satellite orbiting the earth provide necessary links for telephone and television service, they can also provide links for broadband.
BPL is the delivery of broadband over the existing low- and medium- voltage power distribution network.
Elena Cawley may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.