This month, Federal Communications Commission Chairman, Ajit Pai, and U.S. Representative, Marsha Blackburn, met with Internet providers and members of the Tennessee Telecommunications Association in the greater Cool Springs area. Speaking with William Bradford, President and CEO of United Communications, Pai said, “With rural hospitals closing and teachers moving to electronic textbooks, the need has never been greater for expanding rural broadband.”

“For better, healthier, more profitable communities, rural Americans need more access to high-speed broadband,” said Pai, who grew up in rural Kansas. He added that the rules that affect the expansion of rural broadband “must be modernized. As we create a digital economy, connectivity must be available to everyone, everywhere.”

Bradford, whose company United Communications provides high-speed broadband in rural Williamson, Marshall, and Bedford Counties, noted that fiber Internet is not only crucial to attracting new companies and jobs, “it gives existing companies a reason to stay in our communities. It ensures that every resident along the way gets fiber service, and that is a win/win.”

“We are also seeing our rural libraries providing fiber so that local students can do their homework, and residents can apply online for jobs,” said Bradford.

The FCC Chairman visited Middle Tennessee as part of a trip through Kentucky, Tennessee, and Arkansas. The tour follows recent news that the FCC is making $500 million in support for rural broadband deployment. When the support mechanisms were announced, Pai stressed that the FCC is examining more predictable, long-term support “so that communities served by small carriers aren’t stuck on the wrong side of the digital divide.”

U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, also joined the group Wednesday. “Our rural areas cannot have 21st-century economic development, 21st-century health care, 21st-century law enforcement, or 21st-century education without high-speed broadband.”

TTA member companies that were represented at the meeting along with TTA President Bradford of United Communications, provide high-speed broadband and fiber to more than 136,000 rural residents and businesses across Tennessee.

Among the issues discussed during the meeting in Cool Springs, TN:

  • With so many rural hospitals closing, high-speed broadband and fiber connect patients and health care providers through rural telemedicine programs.
  • Today’s teachers are moving away from printed textbooks to electronic ones, meaning that rural students have a critical need for Internet service in order to do homework.
  • Providers at the meeting said they highly appreciate the state and federal funds they receive to help make high-speed broadband and fiber available to more rural Tennesseans.
  • Because there are fewer potential subscribers per mile of fiber, the economics of providing it to rural areas is challenging.
  • Beyond profits, however, high-speed broadband and fiber are valuable tools to recruit businesses – and jobs – to rural areas and to retain those already located there.
  • Blackburn said 50% of rural hospitals lack adequate Internet access.

“Our members are working and pouring everything they’ve got into getting rural Tennesseans connected,” said Levoy Knowles, Executive Director of TTA. “We are grateful to Chairman Pai and Congressman Blackburn for all the work they’ve done to see that we receive federal funding for our efforts. We are very appreciative that they joined us today to discuss these critical issues.”

TTA members include independent and cooperatively owned telecom companies that provide high-speed broadband or fiber service to more than 136,000 customers in rural Tennessee. They have installed more than 21,000 miles of fiber in rural areas across the state, and by 2019, they will have spent more than $243 million to connect rural Tennesseans with gig-speed fiber – the fastest Internet available.

TTA has been connecting rural Tennesseans for 70 years. Today, the 21 members of TTA are the trusted experts in Tennessee rural broadband.

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