Tennessee Awards $198 Million to Electric Co-ops to Build Rural Broadband

Rural Tennessee communities lacking high-speed internet access will soon benefit from nearly $200 million in grants to 11 electric co-ops to deploy broadband. (Photo By: Cathy Cash/NRECA)

Tennessee is giving $198 million—nearly half its allotment for rural broadband from the federal American Rescue Plan—to 11 electric cooperatives to build high-speed internet in unserved communities across the state.

“This is a historic day for electric co-ops and the communities we serve,” said Mike Knotts, vice president of government affairs at the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association in Nashville.

“These grant awards are a testament to the incredible efforts of individual electric co-op teams across the state, and this announcement should be celebrated by thousands of Tennessee families and businesses that will soon have fast, reliable and affordable broadband options.”

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee on Sept. 12 announced a total of $446 million in grants for rural internet service providers from the Tennessee Emergency Broadband Fund, which received ARP money for economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Congress passed the $1.9 trillion relief bill in March 2021.

Electric co-ops received 44% of the funds—more than any other group of internet providers—a recognition that co-ops have a “unique ability to construct broadband networks quickly and efficiently,” Knotts said. “We are honored by the extraordinary trust they place in electric co-ops.”

Grant winners must provide matching funds and deliver internet at speeds of at least 100 megabits per second download and 20 Mbps upload within three years to areas identified as unserved. The co-ops will apply their grants to 33 broadband projects.

Southwest Tennessee Electric Membership Corp., based in Brownsville, recently purchased an existing internet provider, Aeneas, and will receive grants of $19 million and $20 million for two separate broadband projects. The remaining 10 co-ops and their grants are as follows:

Appalachian Electric Cooperative/Trilight, $8.6 million
Chickasaw Electric Cooperative, $13 million
Cumberland Electric Membership Corp., $17.5 million
Fayetteville Public Utilities, $9 million
Gibson Electric Membership Corp., $2 million
Middle Tennessee Electric/United Communications, $53 million
Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative, $4.5 million
Powell Valley Electric Cooperative/Scott County Telephone, $13 million
Tennessee Valley Electric Cooperative, $22 million
Volunteer Energy Cooperative, $15 million

Cathy Cash is a staff writer for NRECA.