The 2016 session of the Tennessee legislature is in full swing, and we are busy representing the voice of rural telecommunications. The deadline for filing bills has passed, and with this being an election year, there’s a sense that lawmakers are focused on getting in and getting out quickly. I believe this session will be wrapped up by mid-April.
The big news, as you’ve probably already seen in the media, is the return of a bill to allow municipal utilities to expand broadband service into surrounding rural areas. While the bill’s House sponsor Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, says he’s pressing forward and it could come before a House subcommittee next month, House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, recently stated that she doesn’t expect the General Assembly to take up the bill this session.
Part of the reason Harwell expects a delay is that the Department of Economic and Community Development is conducting a broadband survey in an attempt to measure who has broadband Internet access across the state. The results will not be compiled before the end of this legislative session.
It’s important that the customers of TTA telcos take this survey. I encourage you to get the word out any way you can and ask for your customers’ help in getting an accurate picture of where broadband service is available. The survey can be found here.
This is actually one of two broadband studies being conducted by the state. The Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR) is working on a study as well. I had the opportunity to speak before a TACIR panel in October, and I look forward to working with them in anyway possible to help ensure they get an accurate picture of the great work TTA members are doing in delivering broadband service to their customers. (See more information about the TACIR study here.)
Plans are firming up for our Day on the Hill event, set for March 1. That is always a busy day for the TTA, with three to four appointments going on at any given moment. This is valuable time to share our message with elected officials. We are finalizing our participant list, so contact me as soon as possible if you are interested in joining us that day.