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State seeks to make Broadband Internet more accessible to rural areas

By Marlana Ward

Access to high-speed, broadband internet is becoming more and more widespread throughout the United States. In some rural areas, however, gaining access to the valuable service can be difficult given the terrain and reluctance of providers to install and maintain equipment in hard to reach locations. Recently, Tennessee legislative bodies have taken steps to encourage providers to reach beyond their normal service areas and offer broadband access to more Tennesseans.
According to TN.gov, Tennessee ranks 29th in the nation for broadband internet access. The lack of internet connectivity is becoming a problem for the 34 percent of rural Tennessee residents who are unable to access the high-speed internet services. This lack of dependable, high quality internet service means that those who live in these rural areas are unable to take advantage of the business opportunities that today’s world offers would-be telecommuters and entrepreneurs.
Broadband internet is highly sought after for its increased download speeds and increased dependability. The FCC defines broadband internet on their website as the following: The term broadband commonly refers to high-speed Internet access that is always on and faster than the traditional dial-up access. Broadband includes several high-speed transmission technologies such as Digital Subscriber Line (DSL), Cable Modem, Fiber, Wireless, Satellite, or Broadband over Powerlines (BPL). Since 2010, the state of Tennessee has been active in passing legislation designed to increase broadband services across the state for the benefit of commerce, education, homeland security, and healthcare.
For some rural areas across the country, the potential of Broadband over Powerlines, or BPL, holds great promise for providing broadband to hard to access properties. The FCC describes BPL as “The delivery of broadband over the existing low- and medium-voltage electric power distribution network.

BPL speeds are comparable to DSL and cable modem speeds. BPL can be provided to homes using existing electrical connections and outlets. BPL is an emerging technology that is available in very limited areas. It has significant potential because power lines are installed virtually everywhere, alleviating the need to build new broadband facilities for every customer.”
On April 10, 2017, Tennessee legislature passed the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act, a bill backed by Governor Bill Haslam which is designed to offer incentives to not only current internet providers but also local, non-profit electrical cooperatives for their assistance in ensuring all Tennesseans are given the opportunity to access broadband internet services. This bill not only provides the opportunity for grants to be obtained by willing utility companies, but also relaxes regulations which once prohibited electric providers from entering the internet market.
While many are excited about the prospect of electrical cooperatives entering the internet market in rural areas, experienced utility managements recognize the many hurdles along the path to offering the high speed internet services. Mountain Electric General Manager Joe Thacker spoke of how the BPL service is not as simple as it may seem. For the rest of the story, pick up a copy of this week’s Tomahawk on sale now.

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