TNECD makes challenging fiber builds possible with grant funding
Nashville, Tennessee — With the help of Tennessee’s coronavirus fiscal recovery funds, the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development is distributing $400 million in grant funding to expand broadband connectivity to underserved and unserved areas in rural Tennessee.
The pandemic has reiterated the need for high-speed broadband as Tennesseans are asked to work, learn and visit doctors from home.
“There is no time like the present to build out to the most unserved and expensive [to build infrastructure] areas in our state,” says TNECD Broadband Director Taylre Beaty.
Previously, the Broadband Accessibility Grant Program provided grant funding over a three-year period, appropriated at $10 million in 2018, $15 million in 2019, and $20 million in 2020. During those rounds of funding, providers had to contribute a 50/50 match for all grant funding. The 2022 grants allow for a 70/30 match, meaning providers only need to contribute 30% of the overall funding for the builds.
“Because of the increase in funding, we are hoping to lessen the burden for providers who are really wanting to invest and build out this essential infrastructure across Tennessee,” Beaty says.
DTC Communications successfully procured two grants through the Broadband Accessibility Grant Program, totaling around $3.6 million. With that money, DTC was able to bring fiber optic broadband service to more than 2,660 unserved or underserved premises in Smith and Wilson counties.
“Neither project was financially feasible without the grants,” says DTC CEO and TNBA President Chris Townson. “In both cases the awards tipped the financial scales, providing the incentive for DTC to pursue each.”
Similarly, Loretto Telecom procured $2.75 million during the first few rounds of Broadband Accessibility Grant funding. While construction continues, Loretto Telecom is bringing fiber optic broadband to some of the most rural Tennesseans — a feat that would not be possible without the grant funding.
“These areas are sparsely populated,” says Loretto Telecom General Manager and TNBA Vice President Jason Shelton. “A traditional project would not show the ability for a private company to make the investment to serve these parts of Tennessee. Going forward, that’s still going to be the case.”
Fortunately, the TNECD makes the process for providers to apply for grant funding as seamless as possible.
“The TNECD is one of the best organizations I have personally worked with,” Shelton says. “Because of their availability, timeliness and quick reimbursement, the overall process has been extremely easy.”
“They clearly understand all Tennesseans’ need for state-of-the-art broadband connectivity and how effectively designed and efficiently delivered grant programs can move the needle forward toward a fully connected Tennessee,” he says. “The broadband office’s professional and common-sense approach toward public-private programs and partnerships is getting the job done for unserved and underserved Tennesseans. Together, we are connecting Tennessee, and a connected Tennessee is a winning Tennessee.”