Four selected counties will complete a 16-week program designed to equip community leaders to build a
broadband infrastructure plan to address the digital divide.
Nashville, Tenn. (June 1, 2023) — Four Tennessee communities have been selected to participate in the Tennessee Broadband Accelerate Program, a 16-week planning and capacity-building program to help communities leverage new funding to expand broadband access. Representative teams from Bedford, Claiborne, Monroe, and Roane counties recently began the program, led by expert facilitators, to help these communities prepare to utilize new federal funding for broadband expansion. The Tennessee Broadband Accelerate Program is facilitated through a cooperative effort between Heartland Forward, the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (TNECD) and the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society. The opportunity is made possible through the financial support of Heartland Forward and it’s Connecting the Heartland initiative.
The inaugural cohort of counties met for an initial orientation on April 26 in Nashville. County teams will continue to meet on a weekly basis for the duration of the program. The Accelerate process includes weekly, topical two-hour meetings with the cohort of four counties convening together as a large group, with the following objectives:
● Identify broadband goals
● Gather community information
● Analyze opportunities
● Understand funding options
● Target capital dollars for infrastructure
“With Monroe County having a digital divide index score of 34.81, the data supports what we have all known for some time—we have a major internet accessibility issue in Monroe County. In addition to being deemed as ‘broadband ready’ by the Tennessee Economic and Community Development Office,
this program will allow us to accelerate our strategy of moving our broadband efforts forward,” stated Monroe County Mayor Mitch Ingram.
“Roane County was eager to participate in the Broadband Accelerate Program. Our county is divided into five cities with multiple utilities. We need a plan for how to overcome our challenges, and with the guidance from TNECD and its partners, this program offers us an opportunity that would otherwise be difficult to achieve,” said Roane County Executive Wade Creswell.
Claiborne County Mayor Joseph Brooks said about his county’s participation in the program, “Claiborne County is looking forward to getting data from the program that will assist in its efforts to secure funding to help close the gaps in broadband coverage across the county and learn more about opportunities that are already available to residential customers.”
“Bedford County is located within the fastest growing section of Tennessee. Our new residents want to enjoy the beauty of our countryside but still be able to work from home. Our school population is also growing. The ability to help develop a locally planned high-speed fiber delivery network will allow those doing business and schoolwork at home opportunities that were not previously available,” said Bedford County Mayor Chad Graham. “A local based planning program, such as that being offered by Accelerate, is exactly the opportunity Bedford County has needed to direct a meaningful system of delivery and provide the backbone to off load from the fiber routes to areas not adequately served in our rural community.”
“It is crucial that Tennesseans have access to reliable, high-speed internet to fully participate in work, education and healthcare, but too many families across the state are still lacking the connection they need,” said Angie Cooper, Executive Vice President of Heartland Forward, “We are proud to partner with TNECD and the Benton Institute to work on the ground with Tennessee counties to find community-led solutions for expanding high-speed internet access. We hope that these leaders leave the program with renewed enthusiasm and a concrete plan for getting their citizens fully connected.”
Taylre Beaty, Broadband Program Director with TNECD commented, “We are excited to provide Tennessee
counties with an opportunity to come together and create broadband plans that are tailored to the unique needs of their communities. TNECD is looking forward to working with participants to help ensure that all Tennesseans have access to broadband and connectivity resources.”
Adrianne Furniss, Executive Director of the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, said about the program’s expansion to Tennessee, “We are thrilled to be able to bring the Accelerate program to Tennessee and look forward to positioning the four enterprising communities in their efforts to bring reliable, affordable, high-speed internet to their counties to accomplish broader community goals.”
Tennessee communities stand to receive significant funding for broadband infrastructure enhancement, thanks to federal infrastructure dollars and opportunities being made available by the state. Community planning support offered through initiatives like the Tennessee Accelerate Program will help level the playing field so that more cities and counties—regardless of size or staffing—can prepare to submit for capital dollars to help transform broadband in their communities.
The program works to prepare communities for establishing and implementing a full-scale broadband
connectivity vision. Through more than 30 hours of no-cost expert counsel provided by the Benton
Institute, the program offers structured engagement for setting broadband goals, understanding funding options and targeting capital dollars to support implementation. The program is anticipated to run through July 2023. Heartland Forward and the Benton Institute previously joined together with local partners to successfully run similar Accelerate programs in Arkansas, Illinois, and Ohio.