NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Governor Bill Haslam announced new legislation Thursday called the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act that would increase broadband access for rural residents.
Tennessee currently ranks 29th in the U.S. for broadband access, with 34 percent of rural Tennessee residents lacking access at recognized minimum standards.
“From the farmer and the accountant in West Tennessee whose businesses are stifled, to the East Tennessee student who can’t complete her schoolwork at home, a lack of reliable internet access is preventing too many rural Tennesseans, rural communities and our state from reaching its full potential,” Gov. Haslam said. “While there is no one solution that can guarantee broadband accessibility to every single Tennessean, this legislation provides a reasonable, responsible path to improve access in a meaningful way through investment, deregulation and education.”
Tennessee officials say the bill, along with Haslam’s proposed budget, will provide $45 million over three years in grants and tax credits for service providers to assist in making broadband available to unserved homes and businesses.
The plan will also permit Tennessee’s private, nonprofit electric cooperatives to provide retail broadband service and make grant funding available to the state’s local libraries to help residents improve their digital literacy skills and maximize the benefits of broadband.
The legislation is part of Haslam’s NextTennessee plan, which officials say is aimed at building and sustaining economic growth and the state’s competitiveness for the next generation of Tennesseans.