After going through the long application process and waiting with bated breath for the results, Tennessee Valley Electric Cooperative (TVEC) finally got the news they were hoping for – they were awarded $21,847,496.68 in TNECD grant funds to be used for broadband internet infrastructure in most of Wayne County and parts of Hardin County.
Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (TDEC) awarded $446,770,282 in grants for the expansion of internet access across the state of Tennessee. In total, the broadband infrastructure grants will provide broadband access to more than 150,000 unserved homes and businesses across 58 counties. TVEC received $15,294, 341.80 to be used in Wayne County.
“People are moving to Tennessee from across the nation in record numbers, and we have an obligation to prepare our state for continued growth,” said Governor Bill Lee. “Our strategic investments in broadband infrastructure will ensure our rural communities are connected and have every opportunity to thrive, and I thank the Financial Stimulus Accountability Group for managing dollars effectively to serve Tennesseans.”
Funding for these grants comes through the Tennessee Emergency Broadband Fund – American Rescue Plan (TEBF-ARP), which utilizes a portion of the state’s federal American Rescue Plan funds to address the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic and work toward a strong recovery. Tennessee’s Fiscal Stimulus Accountability Group (FSAG) dedicated $500 million to broadband funding from this program, with more than $446 million going to infrastructure and nearly $50 million going to broadband adoption and digital literacy efforts.
With the help of State Senator Page Walley and State Representative David Byrd, the state recognized parts of Wayne County as “rural unserved” communities. The U.S. Department of the Treasury previously defined “unserved areas” as lacking access to a wireless connection capable of minimum speeds of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. However, due to the increasing demands of the digital age, any connection that provides lower than 100 Mbps download speed and 20 Mbps upload speed is now deemed “unserved.” In consideration of this new definition, application priority was still given to those with the lowest internet speeds, but all applications under this new definition of “unserved” were considered.
According to TVEC General Manager Jerry Taylor, most of Wayne County will be included in the new broadband area except for residents within the city limits of Waynesboro, Clifton, and Collinwood, and a small portion of Highway 64 West. “We plan on being the best and fastest internet provider in Wayne County,” said Taylor. “We are dedicated to all our customers and aim to provide the best internet service possible.” The broadband internet service will be called TVEC Connect.
Taylor went on to say that mapping of the eligible areas is currently underway, and installation of fiber optic cable is set to begin in the spring of 2023. He said that eligible residents will hopefully be able to access the internet through TVEC Connect in late summer or early fall of 2023.