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Tennessee to hand out $185M in broadband grants with federal funds

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(The Center Square) – Tennessee plans to hand out $185 million in broadband grants from federal funds assigned to the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.

That includes $60 million in Last Mile Grant funding to service providers in Hardin, Wayne and Polk counties along with $125 million in grants available to the rest of the state. The three counties were marked as underserved and unserved due to the residential broadband rates and that the communities lack broadband at the 100/20 Mbps standard.

The statewide grants are aimed at providing improved service to communities that do not meet the 100/20 Mbps broadband speed standard.

“As Tennessee continues to experience record economic growth and job creation, we’re committed to furthering our administration-wide mission to expand opportunity in rural and underserved communities across our state,” Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said in a statement. “What happens in rural Tennessee matters to all Tennesseans, and I thank the General Assembly and the Financial Stimulus Accountability Group for partnering with us to expand broadband infrastructure and provide critical resources to Tennesseans across our state.”

The funds were part of $500 million of federal American Rescue Plan funds awarded to the TNECD for broadband improvements in November 2021. Overall, Tennessee received $3.7 billion in funds through the Tennessee Resiliency Plan that can be monitored on a county-by-county basis on that state’s online dashboard.

The plan’s goal includes making sure that zero financially distressed counties remain unserved with 100/20 Mbps broadband by December 2026, which will increase the economic viability of those counties.

The grants will be awarded to internet service providers with the applications opening Sept. 4 and running through Oct. 16 with the grants awarded in early 2024.

“Today marks another milestone for rural Tennessee as we unveil two programs that will help more Tennessee communities achieve economic growth and prosperity,” said TNECD Commissioner Stuart McWhorter. “The Last Mile and Middle Mile Grant Programs allow TNECD to provide enhanced support to some of our state’s most rural regions, and we encourage all our local partners to take part in this latest round of broadband funding.”

Internet service providers can challenge the unserved and underserved maps before Aug. 11.

TNECD has awarded nearly $566.6 million in broadband grants through state and federal funding since 2018.

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