Tennessee Officials to Allocate COVID-Relief Funds to Increase Internet Access in Underserved Regions


Crystal Ivey, broadband director at Tennessee’s Department of Economic and Community Development (ECD), said Wednesday that $500 million in taxpayer money bestowed upon Tennessee in the latest round of federal COVID-19 relief will go toward broadband expansion.

ECD officials and Governor Bill Lee (R) have stressed the heightened importance of telecommuting, e-commerce, telemedicine, and distance learning after the pandemic hit. They have observed an especially pressing need in many rural areas, though Ivey has also expressed hope that downtown business districts, as well as libraries and schools, will also benefit from newly available free WiFi. 

“I think our strategy is to [not only] address individual household and business access to broadband, but also access to institutions in the community that support the folks that live there,” Ivey said, speaking at a meeting of Tennessee’s Stimulus Financial Accountability Group.

COVID-related funds have been allotted to Internet access in Tennessee before, in the amount of $61 million last August. That money funded 62 projects in underserved locales across the Volunteer State, affecting roughly 60,000 residents, according to Ivey. 

“Our families, schools, businesses and healthcare communities will benefit from this enhanced broadband infrastructure,” House Speaker Cameron Sexton said of the August allocation.

And in March, ECD was able to fund projects expanding service to 17,800 more Tennesseans with $14.9 million via the state’s Broadband Accessibility Grant program. 

The federal government estimates that 400,000 Tennesseans still do not have adequately reliable internet access for an economy that increasingly demands it. That’s about one out of every six residents of the state’s rural communities.

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Bradley Vasoli is a reporter at The Tennessee Star and The Star News Network. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].



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4 Thoughts to “Tennessee Officials to Allocate COVID-Relief Funds to Increase Internet Access in Underserved Regions”

  1. Paul S

    And just how will the state expand availability? Build and run the infrastructure (I hope not!). Pay existing providers to expand their infrastructure (if so, which providers, how much?). Pay for monthly service? Government, state and federal, has been spending taxpayer money on this issue for over 15 years. Why is it still an issue? Is this really an availability issue, or a monthly service cost issue?.

  2. 83ragtop50

    So anything now qualifies as “COVID Relief”. My electric COOP is spending millions of my dollars to run fiber for internet connections throughout its service area. By the time all this “wired” internet connectivity is in place it will be obsoleted by wireless access by satellite. So tell me again why I should believe anything that these “expert” keepers (actually spenders) of my tax and utility payments. I do not think that there is a reason to believe them any more. And I put Lee at the top of the clueless list.

    By the way. Why do I have to fund getting high speed internet access to rural areas when those residents chose to live there? Apparently personal choices no longer come with any personal obligations. And I live in a rural area.

  3. Steve Allen

    The federal governments claim that millions of people do not have high speed internet access is pure BS. If you have a telephone landline you have high speed access via DSL. There are huge numbers of people who do not have a computer, all they have is a cell phone. Their cell phone provides HIGH SPEED INTERNET ACCESS, but the government does not include this access in it’s claim of a lack of high speed access. What kind of crap is that?

  4. H Jerome Titshaw Jr

    Suppose I’m just too out of date, but I fail to see how Covid relief earmarked? dollars should be used for internet access. According to the Biden administration I thought internet access was “infra-structure”. So which is it?