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Bridging the Digital Divide: Stories of Impact from Project UNITE

By Tim Thompson, Director of Construction

For over 75 years, United Communications has been a proud cornerstone of the Middle Tennessee community, providing reliable telecommunications solutions that have connected neighbors and businesses across the region. In the early days, we showed this commitment by bringing high-quality phone service to underserved suburban and rural areas, pioneering connectivity where others hesitated. Today, our focus has shifted to bridging the digital divide. We want to ensure that every household and business has access to the transformative power of fast, reliable broadband internet.

Recognizing the crucial role broadband plays in education, economic development, and community well-being, United Communications launched Project UNITE in 2020 — a few months after I joined the team at United. Our ambitious initiative aimed to expand broadband internet services to under-connected communities across Middle Tennessee

As the Director of Construction at United Communications, I’ve had the privilege of managing much of the day-to-day efforts for our Project UNITE expansion. I’ve also had the honor of meeting dozens of residents we’ve served. Hearing their stories is what inspires me more than anything else.

As we expand and accelerate our efforts in the coming year, I wanted to take a moment to celebrate the milestones we’ve achieved and highlight a few real-world stories of impact from Project UNITE.

Project UNITE: By the Numbers

Here are a few of the milestones we’ve achieved so far through Project UNITE:

$180 million invested to expand high-speed internet in Middle Tennessee

Since 2020, United Communications has significantly invested in expanding our infrastructure, surpassing many other internet service providers in our region. Building the necessary infrastructure is a significant undertaking, requiring substantial financial resources. Over the past four years, we have leveraged our capital, grant funding, and community partnerships to accelerate Project UNITE’s impact and bring broadband access to communities that have long been left behind.

Fortunately, funding broadband expansion has been a priority for federal, state, and local government leaders. While grants have been instrumental in enabling us to deploy broadband in Middle Tennessee’s highly rural areas, they do not fully cover the ongoing costs associated with operating in these remote locations. Despite this, United Communications remains steadfast in our commitment to serving as a trusted broadband provider in these areas.

3,600+ miles of infrastructure deployed

Our service area encompasses over a dozen counties across Tennessee, spanning a vast region with thousands of residences and businesses. One of the things that stands out is our ability to reach all corners of our service area. This reflects our unwavering belief that everyone deserves access to the transformative power of broadband connectivity.

We’re proud to have completed projects in ten counties, spanning from Wilson County to the state line in Giles, Lincoln, and Franklin Counties. Our efforts have also extended to bridging the digital divide in counties where there were connectivity gaps, such as Williamson and Rutherford.

30,000 homes and businesses served

Project UNITE was born from a desire to provide every Middle Tennessean with access to high-speed internet. After four years of dedicated work, we are well on our way to realizing this goal. By the end of this year, over 30,000 Middle Tennessee locations will have broadband access through the Project UNITE initiative. Our commitment remains unwavering, and we aim to connect an additional 15,000 locations within the next two years.

Stories of Impact from Project UNITE

Since its inception, Project UNITE has made significant progress, connecting thousands of homes and businesses to the digital world. But the impact extends far beyond mere numbers. It’s about the lives transformed. Here are a few of the stories that stand out most:

  1. Our Initial Project and Ongoing Expansion in Eagleville — For me, the Eagleville project is a milestone project. This was the first large area we serviced through Project UNITE. Since then, we’ve completed fifteen contiguous projects to serve the town of Eagleville, and it has become a model for large-area deployment that we use today as we continue to expand across Middle Tennessee.
  2. The Boys & Girls Club of Bedford County — Dozens of students gather at the B&GC in Shelbyville every afternoon. Through Project UNITE, we were able to equip their center with broadband internet—empowering their staff and students with a place to finish homework, participate in STEM workshops, and support their new teen center.
  3. The Clayton Family — The pandemic caused challenges for many families, especially those who were learning how to work and educate their children from home. Stacey Clayton and her family are a great example of the rural residents whose lives were transformed by finally gaining access to a fast, reliable internet connection during that difficult time.
  4. Dawn Bowden — Dawn’s been a United customer since the days of dial-up internet service. For her, fast and reliable internet isn’t a luxury—it’s a necessity that keeps her connected with family on the other side of the world. Today, she’s able to use a fiber connection to video chat with her son, an Air Force mechanic, and her two grandkids who live in Okinawa, Japan.

Continuing Our Commitment to Bridging the Digital Divide

After nearly 35 years in the telecommunications industry, I can confidently say that Project UNITE has been one of the most rewarding initiatives of my career. It is a privilege to work for a company genuinely committed to bridging the digital divide and empowering underserved communities.

While we have made significant progress in expanding broadband access across Middle Tennessee, our work is still ongoing. Too many Middle Tennesseans lack access to this essential tool, limiting their opportunities for education, employment, and connection.

If you are a community member in need of reliable internet access or a local official seeking to drive meaningful change in your community, I encourage you to join us in our Project UNITE journey. Together, we can bridge the digital divide for every Middle Tennessean.

About the Author:

Tim Thompson, Director of Construction

Tim Thompson is a seasoned telecommunications professional with a distinguished career spanning various roles across Operations, Engineering, and Construction. Driven by a passion for connecting communities and supporting suburban and rural areas, Tim joined United Communications in 2019. In his current role as Director of Construction, he oversees the team responsible for expanding, deploying, and maintaining our company’s fiber optic network. His expertise and leadership play a pivotal role in Project UNITE, an initiative dedicated to bridging the digital divide and providing underserved communities across Middle Tennessee with access to high-speed broadband internet.