Broadband access coming to over 1,200 homes in Johnson, Carter counties; Lee proposes $200 mil broadband funding from state


TENNESSEE (WJHL) – In his third State of the State address, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced a $200 million investment into rural broadband in his budget proposal. In Johnson and Carter counties, Charter Spectrum announced expanding broadband access to over 1,200 homes.

In his Monday address, Lee said broadband access is imperative to modern life.

“Whether it’s running a small business, accessing virtual learning, or accessing health care via telemedicine, slow internet speeds have many in rural Tennessee left at a disadvantage. I have proposed record investments in broadband since becoming governor, and I am grateful for the legislature’s support on this issue. But – I am ready for us to solve this issue once and for all. A significant, one-time investment, combined with significant private investment, will get broadband to just about every community in Tennessee, and tonight, that’s exactly what I’m proposing. To help us achieve our goal of every Tennessean having access to high-speed broadband, my budget recommends an investment of 200 million dollars. One major reason broadband expansion is important is to improve educational outcomes in rural areas.”

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee during his third State of the State Address

View Gov. Lee’s budget proposal HERE.

State Representative Scotty Campbell (R – Mountain City) applauded the governor for the large proposal.

“I think what the governor is proposing is a win for the people of Northeast Tennessee, I hear this so much, we need better broadband internet access. I know there was a recent investment by a company and that’s great, but this sizable investment that Governor Bill Lee has put forward and frankly I didn’t think he would go, this big with the proposal. I’m glad that he has a lot of counties in our state, especially here in our area need better access for purposes of telemedicine, which I’m seeing happening more and more. Virtual Learning. Sometimes, we’ve learned that that’s a necessity. Not necessarily. Our first wish. But that’s where we are. And this will help us get where we want to be. This is a major step in the right direction for Johnson, Carter, Sullivan and beyond,” he said.

Rep. Campbell told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais that the governor’s proposal will help better the lives of his constituents.

“I think this is a rather conservative budget proposed by Governor Bill Lee and all the details that we’ve seen thus far, and reducing crime is one of his priorities as it should be for all of us. And with that, with the pandemic, you need to make sure that the economy gets back on track is one that’s very vivid and at the forefront of the proposal,” Campbell explained.

Getting internet access to Tennesseans, even in the most rural regions, like Northeast Tennessee, is not only important to the governor, but to Campbell as well.

“As a member of the House Finance Ways and Means Committee in the Appropriations Subcommittee, I’ll be looking very closely at what the governor’s proposed in terms of getting broadband to more Tennesseans. We’ll also be looking at other avenues as well there are a number of items under consideration,” he said.

Johnson County Schools Superintendent Mischelle Simcox told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais that the governor’s announcement will help her rural school system a great deal.

“You know, of course being from a rural community there’s always a need. And, you know, internet is no different. You know we have a lot of our students that are in areas that they don’t have internet access, you know they have devices, they have phones they have computers, but it’s just they don’t have the internet access because it’s hard to get to those remote areas of the county. So especially during virtual days, which we are now doing for inclement weather, because we’ve used all of our stockpile days, and students are, you know, learning via the internet. You know, it’s hard for students when they don’t have the internet connectivity to be able to access the work so you know we do give out packets – paper packets – for those that don’t have accessibility when they’re at home. So definitely is a need in rural counties, not just Johnson County, but any rural county,” Simcox explained.

She said it’s not always just an option of not being able to afford internet access, but just that students don’t always have access to it in more remote sections of the county.

Simcox said that during the pandemic, the county has come together to help students.

“We’ve opened up our internet in our schools. You know, not only so people can access it in the parking lots, but they can come in and use our computer labs, you know, during COVID we try to limit the number that are in the building and using the computer labs at a time. So we’ve been able to use that to help our parents, a lot of the churches in the community have opened up their internet to allow families to come and use you know the parking lots of the churches, we have a lot of community organizations, the library, a of businesses that have done the same so you know it’s definitely a community outreach program and Johnson County’s a family unit so anything it’s not just about the school system it’s about our kids. So anything that organizations or businesses can do to help the kids of Johnson County, they’re all on board so we do appreciate that,” she said.

Getting state funding means a lot to districts like in Johnson County, with so many students unable to access the internet when utilizing remote learning.

“I just appreciate the governor actually looking into this. You know, sometimes I think as a rural county we feel like we sometimes get forgotten in Nashville and, you know, Tennessee doesn’t end in Knoxville, there’s three more hours to go. So we do appreciate that he’s actually looking into this and he’s concerned about this for rural counties. I guess my advice would be to reach out to more rural counties to actually see how can you help us. So that would be something that would be useful if if someone would reach out to us to say, what are some things we can do to help and you know get us in the talking points and sort of see what they’re thinking,” Simcox told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais.

Her message to Gov. Lee and the General Assembly: “Just, you know, anything that we can do to make our students successful whether they’re sitting in a classroom in person or they’re at home learning online, you know, it’s all about our students. So it’s doing the best we can, especially in this pandemic and wanting to get back to normalcy as much as possible.”

Charter Spectrum to bring broadband to 1,200 homes in Johnson and Carter counties

Rep. Campbell told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais that he is excited about Charter Communication’s announcement to expand broadband availability to more rural homes in his district.

“This is good for the people here in Johnson and Carter. I’m thankful more folks here will have the option of broadband access and there is more to be done but this is a very good start,” he said.

In a press release, Charter Communications announced that this includes a $1.5 million investment in Carter County to reach 634 homes and a $1 million investment in Johnson County that will be reaching 641 homes. 

Nationally, Charter Communications announced the launch of a multiyear, multibillion-dollar broadband buildout initiative to deliver high-speed broadband access to more than 1 million unserved customer locations, as estimated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and awarded to Charter in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) Phase I auction, the release also stated.

This, the release detailed, expands Charter’s network to lower-density, mostly rural communities that do not have access to broadband service of at least 25/3 Mbps. In Tennessee, that includes $92 Million in RDOF funds to expand service to over 79,000 locations across Tennessee.

“The pandemic has further highlighted the need for broadband availability and adoption and Charter is committed to furthering its efforts as part of the comprehensive solution needed to address these challenges,” said Tom Rutledge, Chairman and CEO of Charter Communications. “As Americans across the country increasingly rely on broadband to work, learn, access healthcare and stay in touch with family and loved ones, bringing broadband access to more unserved areas should be a priority for all stakeholders. Charter’s new multibillion-dollar buildout initiative further highlights the importance of the sophisticated broadband networks that the U.S. cable industry has built over several decades, and the industry’s commitment to the local communities it serves. As we continue to help provide more Americans with reliable access to the internet ecosystem, our hope is that federal, state and local authorities, other private companies, pole owners and broadband providers will work together and play a pivotal role in expanding networks to unserved areas.”

Follow News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais on Facebook and Twitter for updates.

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