Legislation to spur deployment of high-speed broadband to rural and unserved areas of Tennessee headed to final vote in State Senate
Senator Yager, a co-sponsor of the bill, praises committee’s action advancing the bill
NASHVILLE — Legislation designed to spur deployment of high-speed broadband Internet services to rural and unserved areas of Tennessee is headed to the floor of the Senate for final consideration after being approved by the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee on Tuesday. The Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act, co-sponsored by Senate State and Local Government Committee Chairman Ken Yager (R-Kingston), seeks to find a responsible path to improve access to broadband through investment, deregulation and education.
“I serve a rural district in which many citizens do not have high-speed access to Internet services,” said Sen. Yager. “We have been at a stalemate for four years on this issue. I am delighted that, under the leadership of Governor Bill Haslam, we are breaking that stalemate to offer high speed Internet to rural Tennesseans and to all of Tennessee.
Tennessee currently ranks 29th in the U.S. for broadband access, with 34 percent of rural Tennessee residents lacking access at recognized minimum standards. Senator Yager estimated that number could be as high as 40 percent in the 12th senatorial district, which includes Campbell, Fentress, Morgan, Rhea, Roane, Pickett and Scott Counties.
Senate Bill 1215 would allow Tennessee’s private, non-profit electric co-ops to provide retail broadband service. Electric cooperatives are currently restricted from providing retail broadband services. It envisions a three-year investment of $45 million in grants and tax credits to focus on the state’s unserved areas, beginning with $15 million appropriated in the 2017-2018 budget.
“I am excited about the possibility for progress that is going to come from enactment of this major legislation,” Yager added. “Our electric coops are uniquely situated to assist in bridging the broadband accessibility gap with many years of experience serving rural Tennesseans and providing universal service throughout their territories.”
The legislation also strengthens protections that prevent electric cooperatives from using electric system assets to subsidize broadband services and ensures that cooperative participation in the broadband market will not limit consumers’ choices. In addition, it provides grant funding opportunities to the state’s local libraries to help residents improve their digital literacy skills and maximize the benefits of broadband.
“When I started workshops to listen to the concerns of my constituents eight years ago, the most important issue listed was the economy and health,” Yager continued. “That has now shifted almost unanimously in every county I serve. The primary concern now is access to broadband. It is a number one issue and I am pleased that this bill is headed for final consideration in our State Senate.”
Yager said the bill could come up for a vote in the Senate as early as next week. It is currently pending action in the Business and Utilities Committee in the House of Representatives.