The State House and Senate have approved legislation that will ensure efficient use of cooperative infrastructure for the provision of telecommunications and broadband services. After passage of the Broadband Accessibility Act in 2017, electric cooperatives in Tennessee are now allowed to sell retail broadband services for the first time in their history. However, as many co-ops began to examine the possibilities a significant stumbling block to providing these services needed to be removed.
The fastest route to building broadband networks is for a cooperative to utilize its existing poles and routes of electric line for installation of new fiber-optic cables. However many of those routes cross private property, where the easement allowing access to the property was either prescriptive or limited to the provision of electric energy. This same issue has been the subject of significant litigation in Missouri, so TECA’s government relations team set out to change state law. Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston) and Representative Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga) filed legislation to ensure that any easement used by a cooperative for the provision of electric energy could also be used for the co-op’s secondary purposes.
Thankfully, the General Assembly listened and passed Senate Bill 1646. After consideration by seven committees as well as the full House and Senate, the bill was approved unanimously. The new law will become effective upon the signature of the Governor, which is expected to take place in the coming days. While other states have struggled with this issue, this legislation serves as a fantastic example of how electric cooperative’s unified voice can make a real difference at the Capitol.