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February 21, 2023 | Tom Ballard

Is your community ready for broadband?

Not all of them are. A program in the works will help close the digital divide in Tennessee.

The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (TN ECD), University of Tennessee (UT) Institute of Agriculture, Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, and Heartland Forward are working on a new planning and capacity-building program to help Tennessee communities leverage historic broadband infrastructure funding for community-driven broadband expansion.

The” Tennessee Broadband Accelerate” program, as the new initiative is known, will help local governments throughout Tennessee receive expert support as they prepare to leverage new dollars that will be made available through the historic passage of the federal infrastructure program. The opportunity is made possible through the financial support of Heartland Forward and its “Connecting the Heartland” initiative.

“It is critical that Tennessee communities have access to reliable internet in order to achieve economic growth and prosperity throughout the state,” said TN ECD Commissioner Stuart McWhorter. “We appreciate our partners at the UT Institute of Agriculture, Benton Institute, and Heartland Forward for collaborating on this program, which will help boost our efforts to close the digital divide in Tennessee.”

Local units of government – particularly at the county level – are encouraged to apply to receive expert support offered as part of an intensive 16-week community engagement program, designed to turn available public broadband funding into sustainable broadband access.

Six community teams will be selected to participate in the first cohort, which begins on April 12. Each team will be comprised of at least eight, and up to 15, participants who will actively engage in the program. The teams should include a combination of local stakeholders from the following entities: city or county governments, development districts, agriculture, educational institutions at all levels, information technology centers, chambers of commerce, healthcare providers, and other applicable entities.

The deadline for communities to apply is March 13, and the link to do so is here. The news release announcing the solicitation can be found here.

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