We’ve Made Great Progress, but Many Miles Left To Go

Posted: October 27, 2020

TNBA executive director speaks to House Education Committee

At the end of 2019, Tennessee Broadband Association members had installed more than 49,000 miles of fiber and invested more than $1.57 billion in their communities’ infrastructures. They also have committed to invest another $400 million over the next three years.

But while members have made great progress closing the rural technology gap, there is still much work to do, TNBA Executive Director Levoy Knowles said as he addressed the Tennessee House Education Committee.

“Broadband is now a necessary utility, much like electricity, water or roads,” Knowles told the committee. “The pandemic that we are in has shown the importance of working from home, providing telehealth and, of course, education. The reason sparsely populated areas don’t have broadband is the cost to provide the service. If you have a rural area with only three to five subs per mile, it’s almost impossible to make a business case work.”

Knowles praised the efforts of TNBA members but said the problem can’t be fixed without state and federal funding.

“Our members are doing what they can to promote broadband during the pandemic,” he said. “Several of our members are providing hot spots throughout their service areas to provide for connection opportunities, particularly for students. Other members have a reduced rate for low-income individuals. Another member has provided grants for at-home connectivity to students needing broadband access.”

Two TNBA members have achieved 100% fiber to the home, and many others are closing in on that goal. Still, Knowles said, only 65%-75% of customers are signed up for fiber. He urged legislators to assist with an education campaign to help rural Tennesseans understand how broadband can enrich their lives.

Knowles also urged state officials to work together with TNBA members to better understand the problems facing rural Tennessee.

“I would suggest the Department of Education work more closely with providers to understand where problem service areas are and what can be done to fix them,” he told the officials. “Many times it’s just putting the right people together to solve the problem.”