NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association submitted feedback regarding the Rural Utilities Service’s e-Connectivity Pilot Program during a comment period provided by the RUS.

The e-Connectivity Pilot Program was was made possible by a $600 million appropriation from Congress in the Consolidated Budget Act of 2018. The USDA is working to create new funding and finance offerings through this pilot program to expand rural broadband in underserved rural and tribal areas.

Comments made by TECA to the RUS highlighted the successes of Tennessee’s electric co-ops in broadband and the need for additional funding to speed deployment. TECA affirmed comments made by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and requested consideration of seven additional suggestions:

  • Projects that achieve universal service inside a provider’s service territory should be incentivized over similar projects that leave significant gaps in coverage between communities
  • Projects that leverage additional investment in broadband infrastructure beyond the receipt of a grant itself should be incentivized over a similar project(s) that rely solely upon the program itself for its existence
  • Allow applicant(s) an opportunity to rebut any challenges of eligibility by third parties
  • Allow flexibility to award funds to any party participating in a partnership or other project that involves multiple eligible parties
  • Allow grants to be payable in multiple awards, rather than a single payment, if so desired by the recipient
  • Allow a small percentage of grants to be usable for start-up expenses of subsidiary entities
  • Provide loan products inside the pilot program at an interest rate below what is otherwise available by existing RUS programs, including FFB loans, or other more advantageous terms.

“We believe that the RUS’s e-Connectivity Pilot Program has the potential to have a meaningful impact on the expansion of broadband in rural Tennessee,” says Mike Knotts, vice president of government affairs with the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “We appreciate Secretary Purdue and the team at RUS for considering the input of Tennessee’s electric cooperatives.”

You can read TECA’s full comments below.

TECA RUS e-Connectivity Comments

NASHVILLE – Three Tennessee electric co-ops will receive almost $3 million to help expand broadband availability. Gibson Electric Membership Corporation, Holston Electric Cooperative and Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative each submitted winning bids in the most recent Federal Communications Commission Connect America Fund II (CAF II) reverse auction.

Over the next ten years, Gibson Connect, a subsidiary of Gibson EMC, will receive $1.22 million, Holston Connect, a subsidiary of Holston EC, will receive $530,000 and ML Connect, a subsidiary of Meriwether Lewis EC, will receive $1.18 million.

These three Tennessee co-ops were among 35 nationally that will receive $225 million to help defray the costs of deploying broadband in underserved areas. The CAF II auction marks the first time that the FCC allowed electric cooperatives to bid for funding as broadband service providers.

“We are pleased to see the FCC recognize that electric co-ops have a unique opportunity to bring broadband to rural and suburban America,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “Tennessee’s electric co-ops have demonstrated our ability to successfully deliver broadband, and we will continue to seek out innovative funding sources and partnerships to make this happen.”

Today two Tennessee co-ops announced projects to expand broadband.

Just over 79 years ago, from the Centerville Courthouse steps in Hickman County, Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative’s first leaders announced its commitment to provide safe, affordable, reliable electricity to areas overlooked by other providers. Today from the same location, MLEC President and CEO Keith Carnahan announced that MLEC was furthering that original initiative and launching Meriwether Lewis Connect, LLC, to deliver broadband internet across the five counties it serves.

“Our areas need broadband for education, healthcare, and community development. Studies show it is a vital need to attract and retain families and businesses,” said Carnahan. “Bringing high-speed internet to all our members is one of the largest investments we’ve made since our inception 79 years ago. It is a huge step in a completely different arena, but helping rural communities build essential services is just another facet of what cooperatives are designed to do.”

Additionally, Middle Tennessee Electric, the state’s largest electric cooperative, and United Communications, Middle Tennessee’s leading provider of fiber and fixed wireless internet services, today announced that they have partnered to expand broadband access to underserved areas across seven counties in Tennessee.

The partnership between Middle Tennessee Electric and United Communications allows the two organizations to combine their resources and decades of experience to offer affordable, high‐speed internet services to members and customers in the coming years and improve quality of life for those in the areas they serve.

“We’re proud to be the first electric cooperative to pursue a partnership of this kind in Tennessee and answer the calls we have long heard from our members. They want and need access to broadband service,” said Chris Jones, president and CEO of Middle Tennessee Electric. “United Communications is the ideal partner for us. They have already built an impressive fiber backbone throughout many areas we serve which will allow us to work together to more rapidly and cost effectively expand internet services.”

This initiative is already under way and full implementation will be a multi‐year process. Based on input from the community, the partnership will prioritize implementation in areas with the highest demand. It allows both organizations to build a world‐class smart grid in the region, at the lowest possible cost, while not impacting Middle Tennessee Electric members’ electric rates, which are some of the lowest in the country.

Both co-op announcements come as a result of the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act signed into law in 2017 by Gov. Bill Haslam. The law removed restrictions to allow co-ops to provide broadband to the communities they serve. Since implementation of the law, eight of the state’s 23 co-ops have announced broadband projects.

NASHVILLE – More than 60 co-op leaders from across Tennessee traveled to Washington, D.C., on Tuesday and Wednesday, April 10 and 11, to meet with members of the Tennessee congressional delegation as a part of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s annual legislative conference.

“This trip is about building relationships,” said David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “When lawmakers evaluate legislation that impacts electric co-ops or rural Tennessee, we want them to think of us. It is important for them to know who we are and how policy will affect us and our consumers.”

In meetings with legislators, co-ops leaders encouraged lawmakers to support the Farm Bill and rural development programs, reject the administration’s proposal to sell TVA’s transmission assets and dedicate funding for rural broadband and other infrastructure projects. Lawmakers were also invited to visit their local co-ops to meet employees, attend annual meetings or tour co-op facilities.

Meetings were held with Senators Alexander and Corker and Representatives Black, Blackburn, DesJarlais, Duncan, Fleischmann, Roe and Kustoff.

“I’m a big supporter of rural areas, and I thank you for coming up to give a voice to the people you serve,” said Rep. Diane Black. “A lot of people never make it to visit legislators in Nashville, and certainly not to Washington, D.C. It’s important for their issues to be heard, and I appreciate what you do.”

In addition to visits with members of Congress, attendees also heard from industry and policy experts, including U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Purdue. During a speech to co-op leaders, Secretary Purdue discussed the importance of rural broadband and highlighted the successes of Tennessee’s electric co-ops. “Rural broadband is not just a luxury — it’s essential,” said Purdue. “Tennessee recently changed state law, and now seven of their electric co-ops are pursuing broadband. I don’t believe that America would ever reach the productivity we have today across our nation without abundant flow of electricity everywhere. In the same way, we cannot make America great again without high-speed e-connectivity available to every American.”

 

NASHVILLE – On Tuesday, March 20, the BroadbandUSA Program, in partnership with the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, hosted a Broadband Summit in Nashville. Gov. Bill Haslam along with other presenters discussed the importance of broadband and explored ways to increase deployment.

Gov. Haslam reiterated Tennessee’s commitment to expand broadband access: “All means all when it comes to access to education and job opportunities, and all means all when it comes to access to broadband.”

“Since the passage of the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act, electric cooperatives have moved swiftly to help answer the call for more broadband in rural Tennessee,” said Mike Knotts, TECA director of government affairs, who participated in a panel discussion during the Broadband Summit. “Seven of the state’s 22 electric co-ops have already made the decision to move forward with providing broadband service, and others are currently evaluating similar decisions.”

The Broadband Accessibility Act provided $10 million in grant funding in 2018 to spur broadband expansion in unserved areas. Earlier this year two co-ops received $2.7 million in broadband grants from the state. These grants have generated more than $90 million in broadband investment by electric co-ops in Tennessee. “The modest investments made through the Broadband Accessibility Grant Fund are already reaping huge rewards,” said Knotts. “That’s a tremendous multiplier, and we hope that future funding from the state will enable even greater levels of investment into this critical infrastructure.”

On Tuesday Gov. Haslam announced several budget amendments including an additional $5 million in nonrecurring broadband accessibility grants, in addition to the $10 million originally included in the FY 18-19 budget.

Gov. Haslam addresses attendees at a Broadband Summit hosted by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development on Tuesday, March 20. Photo via Gov. Bill Haslam on Flickr.

[NASHVILLE] – Electric co-op leaders, including one from Tennessee, appeared today on RFD-TV to discuss the important role that co-ops play in rural communities.

During an interview on the network’s Market Day Report, Mike Partin, CEO of Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative in South Pittsburg, Tenn., discussed the role that electric co-ops can play in rural broadband expansion.

“It makes a lot of sense for co-ops to be a part of the solution,” said Partin. “We have the people and the equipment needed to do this, but most importantly, we have the passion to do this. We are talking about areas that don’t have broadband because there is not a lot of money to be made there. If it were highly profitable, some other company would have already built it. We are doing this because it is the right thing to do. We are a part of rural America, we have been for decades, and we are not willing to stand by and watch the communities we love be left behind.”

Partin also discussed the important role that broadband has in economic development, a topic that is very important to rural communities and electric co-ops.

“Rural America has a lot to offer,” said Partin. “We have low overhead. We have a skilled workforce. There are a lot of reasons that businesses would want to locate to rural America. In Tennessee last year, 45 percent of all new jobs created in the state were created in rural counties. That’s remarkable. Businesses have an appetite for rural America. But if they cannot connect to the outside world, it doesn’t matter how great the site or how talented the workforce, they’ll walk away and go somewhere else. That’s truly unfortunate. We need jobs and investment to have robust and sustainable communities.”

RFD-TV is a national network that features programming devoted to rural issues, concerns and interests. The network can be found on DirecTV, Dish Network and most cable TV companies. Co-op leaders from across the country are in Nashville this week for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s annual meeting, and Monday’s segment was filmed at the network’s studio in Nashville.

[NASHVILLE] – On Friday, the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development announced that two electric cooperatives will receive grants to support the deployment of broadband in rural Tennessee. Gibson Electric Membership Corporation in Trenton will receive $1,353,148 million and Tri-County Electric Membership Corporation in Lafayette will receive $1,350,000.

David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, made the following statement:

“We are pleased that the state recognizes the vital role co-ops can play in the expansion of broadband,” said Callis. “Modern healthcare, education and commerce depend on access to fast, reliable internet, and co-ops are uniquely positioned to bring this service to rural and suburban Tennessee. Today, we celebrate with Gibson EMC, Tri-County EMC and the communities they serve.”

In 2017, the Tennessee General Assembly, bolstered by strong support from Gov. Bill Haslam, passed the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act. This landmark legislation removed restrictions that prevented electric cooperatives from providing retail internet access and established a grant fund to encourage broadband expansion.

Tennessee’s electric co-ops serve more than 2.5 million Tennesseans, many of whom do not currently have access to broadband.

 

During a speech today at the Farm Bureau Federation Annual Meeting in Nashville, President Donald Trump emphasized the need for expanded connectivity across rural America.

David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, made the following statement.

“We are pleased that the Trump administration is making rural issues a priority – especially the expansion of connectivity,” said Callis. “Few things have the potential to reshape rural Tennessee quite like broadband. Modern education, healthcare and commerce all depend on affordable and reliable access. Tennessee’s rural communities have tremendous potential. When they succeed, we all succeed.”

Tennessee’s electric co-ops serve more than 2.5 million Tennesseans, many of whom do not have access to broadband.

In 2017, Gov. Bill Haslam and the Tennessee General Assembly recognized that electric co-ops are uniquely positioned to help close the state’s digital divide. The Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act removed restrictions that prevented electric cooperatives from providing retail internet access. Just nine months later, some areas of the state are already seeing the benefits. Two co-ops have active broadband pilot projects, and several others will begin connecting consumers later this year.

Gov. Bill Haslam on Tuesday, May 16, participated in a ceremonial signing of the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act, legislation that will expand broadband access in rural Tennessee by allowing electric cooperatives to provide retail service to co-op members.

“Electric co-ops are the natural partners to do this because of their nature,” said Haslam. “They are non-profit, they are already out serving many of these communities, and I think the people in our state trust the electric co-ops to provide that role. We are proud to have the electric co-ops to be our partners in this effort.”

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today signed the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act, creating grant funding and removing legal restrictions to allow the state’s private, member-owned electric cooperatives to provide high-speed internet service to co-op members. David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, made the following statement.

“Access to high-speed internet is critical to Tennessee’s rural communities, and we appreciate the faith that Gov. Haslam and the General Assembly have placed in the electric co-ops. Gov. Haslam’s signature today means that our work is just beginning. Tennessee’s electric co-ops have been asked to bring broadband to rural Tennessee. This is a massive task, but co-ops have a legacy of improving everyday life in our communities. We are excited about the opportunities created by the Broadband Accessibility Act.”

The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association provides leadership, advocacy and support for Tennessee’s 23 electric cooperatives and publishes The Tennessee Magazine, the state’s most widely circulated periodical. Visit tnelectric.org or tnmagazine.org to learn more.

 

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FOR MORE INFORMATION
Trent Scott | Vice President of Corporate Strategy | 615.515.5534 | tscott@tnelectric.org