By Lou Murrey
The Sustainable and Equitable Agricultural Development Taskforce, a coalition of organizations representing underserved and underrepresented areas in East Tennessee, is working to bring broadband internet services to rural areas of the state.
Currently, Tennessee law limits the ability of municipal utilities to extend advanced telecommunication services like broadband beyond their service area or to create networks with neighboring utilities. Cities like Bristol and Morristown have successfully implemented public broadband on their own. But, according to the SEAD Taskforce, some rural parts of Tennessee are “relegated to expensive, poor-quality internet service only through satellite companies, if at all,” and lack the ability to connect to existing broadband infrastructure.
Proposed Tennessee Senate Bill 1134 would remove some of the restrictions that make access to affordable broadband internet services difficult in rural areas. Members of the SEAD Taskforce have been facilitating meetings across East Tennessee with elected officials, utility boards and rural residents to discuss internet access in their communities and educate local governments and community members on S.B. 1134. SEAD has also worked with 16 counties in Tennessee plus the cities of Greenville and Bristol to pass resolutions in support of S.B. 1134. The bill has been in subcommittee since March of 2016, but a new legislative session begins Jan. 10, 2017.