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Tennessee awards $162.7M in broadband, digital grants

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(The Center Square) – Tennessee announced another $162.7 million in broadband and digital grants recently.

That makes $715 million that the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development has awarded in recent years with the goal of expanding broadband in the state to 689,000 Tennesseans and 275,000 residents and businesses.

A large portion of that investment came from federal funding from the American Rescue Plan, with Gov. Bill Lee’s administration earmarking $500 million in federal funds for broadband infrastructure, as Brandon Puttbrese of the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus pointed out.

This week’s awards included $97.2 million from the Last Mile and Middle Mile infrastructure programs, and $65.5 million in the digital opportunity program.

Newport Utilities will receive $15.2 million in grants for work in Cocke County while Ben Lomand Communications will receive $14.7 million for expansion in Franklin and Moore counties while Aeneas Communications will receive $7.2 million for work in parts of Fayette, Tipton, Lauderdale, Haywood, Madison, Chester and Hardeman counties, Gibson Connect will receive $7.1 million for work in Gibson and Madison counties.

BrightRidge will receive $7.1 million in Washington and Greene counties and West Kentucky Rural Telephone Cooperative will receive $6.6 million in Henry and Weakly counties.

The Last Mile grants include $6.8 million to Brightspeed in Hardin County and $6.7 million to Spectrum Southeast in Wayme County.

“Broadband is essential to all Tennesseans, and that’s why we are making strategic investments in our state’s broadband infrastructure and digital opportunity programs to create a pathway to education, job training and greater opportunity statewide,” Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said in a statement.

The TNECD began four programs through the federal funds to promote higher-paying jobs including Digital Skills, Employment and Workforce Development, Connected Community Facilities, Broadband Ready Communities and Tennessee College of Applied Technology Broadband Workforce grants.

The $27.9 million in DSEW grants will go to 47 organizations to offer training and education programs to advance digital skills and workforce development.

The $26.5 million in CCF grants will go to 19 local governments for construction and renovation of spaces that offer services for digital advancement in workforce, health care and education.

The $6 million in BRC grants will go to 64 local governments and support community-based digital skills training, public Wi-Fi projects, distribution of free or low-cost devices and marketing for low-cost internet plans.

The $4.9 million TCAT Broadband Workforce grants will go to five TCATs that will offer a Telecommunications Electronics Technician diploma. The objective will be to produce a well-trained and diverse telecommunications workforce capable of deploying and managing broadband infrastructure.

Those receiving grants will invest $48 million in matching funds and must complete projects by Dec. 31, 2026.