Lawmakers in Tennessee earlier this month responded to a grassroots effort led by the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, approving a bill that would enlist co-ops in a plan to develop rural broadband in the state. Tennessee currently ranks 29th in the U.S. for broadband access, with more than a third of rural Tennesseans lacking access at recognized minimum standards. America’s electric co-ops are now poised to help close that digital divide, according to a news release from the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association:
Tennessee lawmakers are lifting restrictions on electric cooperatives so they can deliver broadband internet service to their members.
“Today is a great day for rural Tennesseans,” said Dan Rodamaker, president and CEO of Gibson Electric Membership Corporation in Trenton, Tennessee, following the April 10 passage of legislation to facilitate rural broadband.
“With the passage of the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act, our state’s rural electric cooperatives can finally help bridge the digital divide for our rural areas. We sincerely appreciate Gov. Bill Haslam’s and our legislators’ support of this act and we look forward to the quality-of-life benefits it will yield for our member-owners,” Rodamaker said.
About 34 percent of the state—or more than 800,000 Tennesseans—are without broadband Internet access, according to Haslam. Many live in areas already served by electric co-ops.
The state House voted 93-4 to pass legislation crafted by Haslam and backed by Tennessee electric co-ops to provide a path for high-speed Internet service to unserved homes and businesses. The state Senate passed it April 3. Haslam is expected to sign the act into law soon.
“Spurring deployment in our rural, unserved areas will open them up to economic investment and growth,” Haslam said in a statement following passage of the bill.
The Nashville-based Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association earlier this year urged its 23 co-ops with 2.5 million members to join its grassroots effort supporting the legislation, which makes it possible for co-ops to provide video and telephone services in addition to broadband.
“Access to high-speed Internet has the potential to shape the future of rural Tennessee,” said David Callis, TECA executive vice president and general manager.
The association thanked Haslam, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris and Rep. David Hawk for advocating for the bill. “We appreciate them and everyone who showed their support for the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act and the people of rural Tennessee,” Callis said.