Rescue plan

Opinion: Tennessee’s ‘necessary’ broadband benefits from ‘unnecessary’ US bailout funds

General talk about expanding broadband throughout Hamilton County and much of Tennessee became more than just talk this week. The Hamilton County Commission on Wednesday unanimously approved a broadband deal that will benefit more than 1,000 county residents who live beyond Chattanooga’s decade-old Gig City footprint.

The effort, funded in part by the American Rescue Plan Act that was passed last year by Democrats in Congress, is and has been “very, very much needed,” said Commissioner Steve Highlander, R-Ooltewah, last week as the commission discussed the issue. during an agenda meeting. Highlander said broadband access was the biggest demand of residents in his district — a very Republican district in a very Republican state whose governor and other Republican politicians called the US bailout “unnecessary “.

But good broadband is the most requested item for good reason. The availability of high-speed internet connections is increasingly vital for modern schools, jobs and healthcare.

Young people in Hamilton County — especially those who live in Chattanooga with good internet — might not have fallen behind in schoolwork as much as most other students in Tennessee after schools juggled the distance learning with in-person classes last year as COVID raged. Instead, our youth continued to learn and their test scores remained stable or better, unlike others across the state.

Volunteer Energy Cooperative, a utility serving all or part of 17 counties east and north of US from Georgia to Kentucky, is seeking a $6.2 million grant through the Tennessee Emergency Broadband Funds, established last August with money from the American Rescue Act.

In Hamilton County, Volunteer plans to lay 112 miles of fiber optic lines to reach 1,395 customers in outlying areas.

Our county government will contribute 10%, or $615,671.

But Hamilton County won’t be the only local area helped by this exceptional use of our federal, state and local tax dollars.

Grant applications for voluntary energy cooperatives

Volunteer Energy Cooperative grant applications include:

› Hamilton County for $6.2 million to lay 112 miles of fiber lines, reaching 1,395 customers.

› Bradley County for $18.4 million to lay 358 miles of fiber line, reaching 3,849 customers.

› Cumberland County for $3.3 million to lay 69 miles of fiber lines, reaching 607 customers.

› McMinn County for $32.3 million to lay 634 miles of fiber line, reaching 6,794 customers.

› Meigs County for $13.3 million to lay 261 miles of fiber line, reaching 2,692 customers.

› Polk County for $34.5 million to lay 652 miles of fiber line, reaching 7,488 customers.

› Rhea County for $11.2 million to lay 212 miles of fiber line, reaching 2,525 customers.

› Roane County for $6.1 million to lay 122 miles of fiber line, reaching 1,189 customers.

We are involved in projects over $125 million that Volunteer Energy Cooperative has outlined in grant applications. In total, this will bring reliable Internet access to more than 26,539 customers in eight counties.

Tennessee’s overall share of President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Act, passed and signed into law last March, is $3.72 billion.

Governor Bill Lee’s administration last summer announced plans to use half of one of those billions — $500 million — for broadband expansion. Lee, apparently forgetting his “unnecessary” remarks, said other state spending would include $1.35 billion for statewide sewer and water projects. The rest was for vaccines, health care, rental assistance and other personal support.

Add to that the fact that Tennessee counties, cities and towns are raising an additional $2.88 billion as part of their share of the $1.9 trillion federal law.

We’d be remiss not to wave this reminder: The $1.9 trillion federal law has been met with opposition from congressional Republicans and continues to be criticized by them, at least until they smile. in the photos next to the fiber optic trucks or the like.

Not a single Republican Representative in the House voted for it. Not. A. Specifically, Tennessee GOP Representatives Chuck Fleischmann, Scott DesJarlais, Tim Burchett, Mark Green, Diana Harshbarger, David Kustoff, and John Rose voted “no.” They voted against bringing their constituents – you – something as essential to our lives as electricity and indoor plumbing.

Similarly, in the US Senate, no Republican voted for. Not Tennessee Senator Bill Hagerty or Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn.

Here’s how Blackburn embarrassed herself, and all of us, by talking about it.

“Here is the truth, they certainly did not invest their time and energy in these 600 pages to bring relief, but to shamelessly advance their own agenda and sideline struggling families and workers. … They have used clever messaging and wordy phrases to sell a bill that treats every pet project they have and every item on the Liberal wish list agenda as essential.”

Isn’t broadband – a ‘liberal wishlist agenda item’ – what allows Blackburn to deliver its wingnut podcasts?

Here’s the truth: A Liberal wishlist agenda item would include two new Democratic senators for Tennessee and seven new Democratic House representatives.