Tennessee eyes broadband for $500M in federal recovery cash

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FILE – In this Oct. 2, 2007 file photo, A.J. Bowen of Schupp’s Line Construction, Inc. works on fiber-optic installation in Norton, Vt. Even though the federal government has spent tens of billions of dollars to close the digital divide, tens of millions of Americans still aren’t online. The Biden administration has now broached a big number, $100 billion, in an effort to get all Americans connected. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee officials on Wednesday announced plans to use $500 million in federal COVID-19 recovery money to boost broadband internet access and subsidize some low-income subscribers.

Tennessee’s Financial Stimulus Accountability Group also said the American Rescue Plan money will include $1.35 billion for sewer and water projects statewide.

The two topics make up about half of Tennessee’s $3.7 billion State Fiscal Recovery Fund through the federal stimulus package.

Officials say $400 million in broadband provider grants will help cover areas qualifying as unserved, with initial applications beginning this fall and grant distribution starting next spring.

More applications will follow in summer 2022, with awards distributed in winter 2023. The goal is to identify additional areas through the state’s yet-to-be-completed map of broadband coverage, which aims to compile less flawed data than in the federal maps currently used for grant decisions. Tennessee’s map could be done by next May, said state broadband director Crystal Ivey.

Improved federal maps are also coming.

The other $100 million will primarily fuel credits to reduce internet bills for low-income Tennesseans.

The $500 million adds to $100 million for broadband in Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s budget. Finance Commissioner Butch Eley said the state will hold onto that money while spending the federal funding.

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