USDA to assist with internet access

UPPER CUMBERLAND – Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development Anne Hazlett has announced that United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing more than $200 million in infrastructure projects to bring broadband to hundreds of unserved and underserved rural communities.

“Broadband infrastructure is vital to our economy and quality of life in rural America.  Yet, today nearly 40 percent of rural residents and businesses lack access to the same quality service available in urban centers,” Hazlett said. “Under Secretary Perdue’s leadership, USDA is working hard to bridge this gap. From access to health care to workforce training and connection to global markets, broadband is truly a lifeline to prosperity in rural communities.”

Two Tennessee companies were awarded grants to improve infrastructure in three rural counties and two telephone cooperatives received loans to provide broadband access to over 32,000 customers. Ben Lomand Communications, LLC, located in Warren County received a $1.5 million grant to construct state-of-the-art fiber to the premise (FTTP) facilities serving 179 customers in the Pocahontas community in Coffee County. And North Central Communications, Inc., with offices located in Macon and White Counties, was awarded a $2,836,187 grant to construct an FTTP system for 278 unserved households in Trousdale and Smith counties. Not only will over 450 households have access to the internet, a community center will be established where residents may have access to computer terminals and free internet for at least two years in the locations listed above.

Bledsoe Telephone Cooperative Corporation in Bledsoe County and Twin Lakes Telephone Cooperative Corporation located in Jackson County are two telephone coops that received loans. Bledsoe Telephone Cooperative Corporation’s $7,885,000 loan will be used to provide broadband fiber service to nearly 2,000 subscribers in and around Dunlap and Pikeville. The upgrades will improve traffic routing, overall functionality and network security.

Twin Lakes Telephone Cooperative Corporation’s $15,827,000 loan will be used to convert portions of a legacy copper network to an FTTP system and to deploy broadband infrastructure for further expansion. Approximately 590 miles of copper lines will be replaced with fiber, allowing Twin Lakes to provide nearly 30,000 customers with enhanced broadband and voice services.

“We are extremely pleased with the grants and loans awarded to Tennessee companies today,” said Harriet Cannon, Tennessee Acting State Director for USDA Rural Development. “The construction of FTTP systems, the establishment of community centers and the ability to provide broadband fiber to our rural communities are all game changers in the way business is conducted in these rural areas.”

These awards are being financed through USDA’s Telecommunications Program, which has provided financial assistance to more than 500 telecommunications providers nationwide. USDA is announcing $207 million in loans and grants today.

USDA Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements; business development; homeownership; community services such as schools, public safety and health care; and high-speed internet access in rural areas. For more information, visit www.rd.usda.gov.

Amye Anderson is the managing editor of the Upper Cumberland Business Journal and can be reached at amye@ucbjournal.com.