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Tennessee to Allow Co-op Broadband

April 20, 2017 By Molly White in

Tennessee lawmakers are lifting restrictions on electric cooperatives so they can deliver broadband internet service to their members.

“Today is a great day for rural Tennesseans,” said Dan Rodamaker, president and CEO of Gibson EMC in Trenton, Tennessee, following the April 10 passage of legislation to facilitate rural broadband.

“With the passage of the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act, our state’s rural electric cooperatives can finally help bridge the digital divide for our rural areas. We sincerely appreciate Gov. Bill Haslam’s and our legislators’ support of this act and we look forward to the quality-of-life benefits it will yield for our member-owners.”

About 34 percent of the state, or more than 800,000 Tennesseans, are without broadband internet access, according to Haslam. Many live in areas served by electric co-ops,

The state House voted 93-4 to pass legislation crafted by Haslam and backed by Tennessee co-ops to provide a path for high-speed internet service to unserved homes and businesses. The state Senate passed it April 3. Haslam is expected to sign it soon.

“Spurring deployment in our rural, unserved areas will open them up to economic investment and growth,” Haslam said in a statement following passage of the bill.

The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, based in Nashville, earlier this year urged its 23 co-ops with 2.5 million members to join its grassroots effort supporting the legislation.

The legislation makes it possible for co-ops to provide video and telephone services in addition to broadband.

“Access to high-speed internet has the potential to shape the future of rural Tennessee,” said David Callis, TECA executive vice president and general manager.

The association thanked Haslam, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris and Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville, for advocating the bill. “We appreciate them and everyone who showed their support for the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act and the people of rural Tennessee,” Callis said. 

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By Cathy Cash, Staff Writer, NRECA 4/13/2017