It’s not just about watching movies and downloading music, says Randy Boyd, Tennessee’s commissioner of Economic and Community Development.
Businesses, schools, even health care providers need faster internet speeds these days.
And with about a third of Tennessee’s rural residents stuck in the slow lane, it’s time to for the state to do something, Boyd says.
“This is the government … doing what it should do, in deregulating the industry,” Boyd says. “The government is deregulating the industry and allowing co-ops, which are privately owned, to be able to participate in offering broadband.”
Boyd means electric co-ops — nonprofit utilities owned by its customers. Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration is planning a big push to promote broadband service in rural areas, and state officials have come up with a plan that would place the state’s 23 electric co-ops in the lead.
Tennessee law currently bars co-ops from offering broadband. The Haslam administration wants to reverse that policy.
It also wants to offer $45 million in grants and tax credits to companies that will extend broadband to underserved places. And, the administration says, it wants to teach people how to use the internet better by funding digital literacy programs at local libraries.
The biggest opposition to letting electric co-ops offer broadband service has come from existing providers, like the cable and telephone companies. Boyd says the state has just now notified them about the proposal, they haven’t said yet whether they’d be willing to go along with it.