Tennessee Can Reach Its Full Potential With Internet Access Funding
- Janet Ayers is President of the Ayers Foundation.
- Angie Cooper is Heartland Forward’s Director of Programs.
With the passage of the landmark federal infrastructure bill in early November, an unprecedented amount of funding is being directed to states across the country for broadband expansion and development, including right here in Tennessee.
At a minimum, the state should receive $100 million to help expand broadband access to our residents.
This injection of federal funding is crucial for Tennessee and its people. The White House estimates that at least 17% of Tennesseans do not have a home internet subscription, putting them at a significant disadvantage to participate in the 21st century economy and putting students at risk of falling behind in their education. .
In rural communities, which tend to have less access to high-speed internet, more than two-thirds of educators said better internet access is needed to support remote learning according to an April 2020 Vanderbilt study.
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The reasons for this disconnection are varied.
At least 5.9% of Tennesseans live in areas where there is no broadband infrastructure, preventing them from going online even if they wanted to. Even when the connection is available, the cost remains an obstacle. A recent study by EducationSuperHighway found that nearly four in 10 households in the state say they cannot afford internet service.
The need for investments in high-speed internet is clear, and officials are optimistic that this influx of federal funding could help make real progress in closing the digital divide, and so can we.
However, for this funding to realize the potential it could have for the State of Tennessee and its people, we must ensure that federal dollars are spent effectively and efficiently to help those who need it most.
That’s where our organizations come in: Heartland Forward, a think tank focused on improving economic performance in the 20 central states, and the Ayers Foundation, dedicated to improving quality of life for the people of Tennessee, especially in rural Tennessee, are focused on this vital issue.
We are ready to work with policymakers, providers, community groups and other key stakeholders to ensure that every federal dollar spent on high-speed Internet access is well spent.
To that end, we support Tennessee policies and programs that are guided by these principles:
- Public investment in high-speed internet should boost everyone’s morale. This means tackling barriers to access, affordability and adoption.
- Communities must come up with solutions that meet their own unique needs. But to do this, many communities, especially smaller ones with limited staff capacity and expertise, need technical assistance, planning support and clear authority to determine what is in their best interest.
- Regulations and standards must maximize investments for long-term impact.
Tennessee has a real opportunity
Above all, we believe this work is so crucial because high-speed Internet access will have a positive impact on our economy, especially at the local level. Studies have shown that greater availability of broadband leads to economic growth – with widespread internet connectivity it is possible to create hundreds of thousands of jobs and increase economic output by hundreds of billions of dollars .
Tennessee will receive funding in the coming months that has the potential to truly transform the lives of more than 492,000 Tennessees who currently lack adequate internet access and to boost our state’s future economic potential, but we all need to work together to achieve this goal. becomes a reality.
To maximize these opportunities, substantial work is already underway in rural communities across the state. From Henry to Campbell, from Cocke to Decatur, several counties have already used technical assistance for broadband planning supported by the State of Tennessee and the Ayers COVID Relief Foundation, with expertise from Rural Innovation Strategies, Inc.
But continued cooperation from an even broader coalition of providers and stakeholders will be needed to ensure Tennessee is set up for long-term connectivity success.
Heartland Forward and the Ayers Foundation are here to help and support you.
We look forward to working with partners across the state to connect all Tennessians to the high-speed Internet access they need to succeed in school, at work, and in our growing economy.
Janet Ayers is President of the Ayers Foundation.
Angie Cooper is Heartland Forward’s Director of Programs.