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.
– – –