FILE - Broadband internet, ethernet, high-speed internet

(The Center Square) – Broadband providers in seven Tennessee counties will receive a total of $17 million in grant funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for broadband expansion, providing service to an estimated 4,100 households.

The $17 million investment comes on the heels of $10 million in USDA rural broadband grants awarded in Tennessee last month, bringing state and federal investment in broadband expansion to a total of $88 million since August 2020.

“Access to a high-speed internet connection is a cornerstone of prosperity, and unfortunately many of America’s rural communities lack access to this critical infrastructure,” said Bette Brand, who serves as an under secretary of rural development at the USDA.

The funds will be distributed among five broadband providers serving seven counties across the state:

• Volunteer Energy Cooperative will use a grant of $3.7 million to provide broadband services to more than 2,500 people, 79 farms and several businesses in Meigs County;

• Ben Lomand Holdings will expand broadband services in Cumberland County with a grant of $1.9 million;

• In Campbell County, Highland Communications will use a grant of $6.4 million to connect nearly 3,000 people, 73 farms, 25 businesses, eight educational facilities and a fire station to broadband;

• DeKalb Telephone Cooperative will connect more than 2,000 people in Smith, Trousdale and Wilson counties with a grant of $2.2 million.

• A $2.7 million grant to West Tennessee Telephone Company Inc. will connect nearly 3,000 people to broadband in Carroll County.

Funds were awarded in response to applications for grants through the USDA ReConnect program, which received an allocation of $600 million from Congress in 2018 to expand broadband infrastructure across the U.S.

“Connecting America’s rural communities to this essential infrastructure is one of USDA’s top priorities, because we know that when rural America thrives, all of America thrives,” Brand said.

Significant investment in rural broadband comes as many school children and families continue to rely on the internet for education and work amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Before recess in March, the Tennessee Legislature had approved $10 million for broadband, but the funding was cut during budget cuts in June. Since then, Gov. Bill Lee has allocated $61 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding to broadband expansion.

Staff Reporter

Vivian Jones reports on Tennessee and South Carolina for The Center Square. Her writing has appeared in the Detroit News, The Hill, and publications of The Heartland Institute.