FCC Chairman Meets With TN Broadband Companies

Working Together To Bridge Digital Divide

FRANKLIN, Tenn. - Internet lines are up all over Nashville and other Middle Tennessee cities, but in the rural parts of Tennessee, even in counties such as Williamson County, there are areas where there is no high-speed internet, or no internet at all.

"You cannot have a first-world economy with a third-world internet," Congressman Marsha Blackburn said at a roundtable discussion with local broadband leaders and FCC chairman Ajit Pai on Wednesday. 

At a roundtable Wednesday, the group talked about the need for internet in rural Tennessee, and the need to keep it affordable for those who will use it. 

"They live on such a tight income, a few dollars is a lot of money. It comes out of their food budget a lot of times," one participant in the discussion said. 

As the internet becomes a bigger part of business and education, it's becoming more necessary. In rural areas, some children are being forced to travel away from their home to work on the homework, because they need internet to complete it. 

Part of the issue is the cost of installation versus the amount of people served. In cities and densely populated areas, a company can serve hundreds of customers per square mile, but in rural areas, it can be less than 10 customers per square mile.

"It costs the same amount of money to build in a rural market as it does in an urban market, and you're only getting maybe 2 percent of the take rate," said Levoy Knowles, executive director of the Tennessee Telecommunications Association.

The Tennessee Telecommunications Association has been working for decades to bring broadband and high-speed internet to rural parts of Tennessee, and they said a large part of the issue is simply funding.

The consensus out of Wednesday's roundtable is that more needs to be done to support the spread of broadband internet at the federal, state, and local level. 

"I think we're all in the same boat on this," commissioner Pai said. "We want to get broadband to every part of the country to extend what I call digital opportunity to every American regardless of where he or she happens to live." 

Pai said that he hopes through loans, grants, and other programs, that hte digital divide will be closed and those digital opportunities will become more easily attainable for the rural areas of the United States.

"I'm hopeful in the near future, or the next couple of years at least, we'll be able to see some really measurable progress. Our ambitions are really strong and they're also near-term. We don't want this to linger ofr another two decades." 

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