NASHVILLE – More than 60 co-op leaders from across Tennessee traveled to Washington, D.C., on Tuesday and Wednesday, April 10 and 11, to meet with members of the Tennessee congressional delegation as a part of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s annual legislative conference.

“This trip is about building relationships,” said David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “When lawmakers evaluate legislation that impacts electric co-ops or rural Tennessee, we want them to think of us. It is important for them to know who we are and how policy will affect us and our consumers.”

In meetings with legislators, co-ops leaders encouraged lawmakers to support the Farm Bill and rural development programs, reject the administration’s proposal to sell TVA’s transmission assets and dedicate funding for rural broadband and other infrastructure projects. Lawmakers were also invited to visit their local co-ops to meet employees, attend annual meetings or tour co-op facilities.

Meetings were held with Senators Alexander and Corker and Representatives Black, Blackburn, DesJarlais, Duncan, Fleischmann, Roe and Kustoff.

“I’m a big supporter of rural areas, and I thank you for coming up to give a voice to the people you serve,” said Rep. Diane Black. “A lot of people never make it to visit legislators in Nashville, and certainly not to Washington, D.C. It’s important for their issues to be heard, and I appreciate what you do.”

In addition to visits with members of Congress, attendees also heard from industry and policy experts, including U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Purdue. During a speech to co-op leaders, Secretary Purdue discussed the importance of rural broadband and highlighted the successes of Tennessee’s electric co-ops. “Rural broadband is not just a luxury — it’s essential,” said Purdue. “Tennessee recently changed state law, and now seven of their electric co-ops are pursuing broadband. I don’t believe that America would ever reach the productivity we have today across our nation without abundant flow of electricity everywhere. In the same way, we cannot make America great again without high-speed e-connectivity available to every American.”

 

NASHVILLE – On Tuesday, March 20, the BroadbandUSA Program, in partnership with the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, hosted a Broadband Summit in Nashville. Gov. Bill Haslam along with other presenters discussed the importance of broadband and explored ways to increase deployment.

Gov. Haslam reiterated Tennessee’s commitment to expand broadband access: “All means all when it comes to access to education and job opportunities, and all means all when it comes to access to broadband.”

“Since the passage of the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act, electric cooperatives have moved swiftly to help answer the call for more broadband in rural Tennessee,” said Mike Knotts, TECA director of government affairs, who participated in a panel discussion during the Broadband Summit. “Seven of the state’s 22 electric co-ops have already made the decision to move forward with providing broadband service, and others are currently evaluating similar decisions.”

The Broadband Accessibility Act provided $10 million in grant funding in 2018 to spur broadband expansion in unserved areas. Earlier this year two co-ops received $2.7 million in broadband grants from the state. These grants have generated more than $90 million in broadband investment by electric co-ops in Tennessee. “The modest investments made through the Broadband Accessibility Grant Fund are already reaping huge rewards,” said Knotts. “That’s a tremendous multiplier, and we hope that future funding from the state will enable even greater levels of investment into this critical infrastructure.”

On Tuesday Gov. Haslam announced several budget amendments including an additional $5 million in nonrecurring broadband accessibility grants, in addition to the $10 million originally included in the FY 18-19 budget.

Gov. Haslam addresses attendees at a Broadband Summit hosted by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development on Tuesday, March 20. Photo via Gov. Bill Haslam on Flickr.

[NASHVILLE] – Electric co-op leaders, including one from Tennessee, appeared today on RFD-TV to discuss the important role that co-ops play in rural communities.

During an interview on the network’s Market Day Report, Mike Partin, CEO of Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative in South Pittsburg, Tenn., discussed the role that electric co-ops can play in rural broadband expansion.

“It makes a lot of sense for co-ops to be a part of the solution,” said Partin. “We have the people and the equipment needed to do this, but most importantly, we have the passion to do this. We are talking about areas that don’t have broadband because there is not a lot of money to be made there. If it were highly profitable, some other company would have already built it. We are doing this because it is the right thing to do. We are a part of rural America, we have been for decades, and we are not willing to stand by and watch the communities we love be left behind.”

Partin also discussed the important role that broadband has in economic development, a topic that is very important to rural communities and electric co-ops.

“Rural America has a lot to offer,” said Partin. “We have low overhead. We have a skilled workforce. There are a lot of reasons that businesses would want to locate to rural America. In Tennessee last year, 45 percent of all new jobs created in the state were created in rural counties. That’s remarkable. Businesses have an appetite for rural America. But if they cannot connect to the outside world, it doesn’t matter how great the site or how talented the workforce, they’ll walk away and go somewhere else. That’s truly unfortunate. We need jobs and investment to have robust and sustainable communities.”

RFD-TV is a national network that features programming devoted to rural issues, concerns and interests. The network can be found on DirecTV, Dish Network and most cable TV companies. Co-op leaders from across the country are in Nashville this week for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s annual meeting, and Monday’s segment was filmed at the network’s studio in Nashville.

[NASHVILLE] – On Friday, the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development announced that two electric cooperatives will receive grants to support the deployment of broadband in rural Tennessee. Gibson Electric Membership Corporation in Trenton will receive $1,353,148 million and Tri-County Electric Membership Corporation in Lafayette will receive $1,350,000.

David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, made the following statement:

“We are pleased that the state recognizes the vital role co-ops can play in the expansion of broadband,” said Callis. “Modern healthcare, education and commerce depend on access to fast, reliable internet, and co-ops are uniquely positioned to bring this service to rural and suburban Tennessee. Today, we celebrate with Gibson EMC, Tri-County EMC and the communities they serve.”

In 2017, the Tennessee General Assembly, bolstered by strong support from Gov. Bill Haslam, passed the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act. This landmark legislation removed restrictions that prevented electric cooperatives from providing retail internet access and established a grant fund to encourage broadband expansion.

Tennessee’s electric co-ops serve more than 2.5 million Tennesseans, many of whom do not currently have access to broadband.

 

During a speech today at the Farm Bureau Federation Annual Meeting in Nashville, President Donald Trump emphasized the need for expanded connectivity across rural America.

David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, made the following statement.

“We are pleased that the Trump administration is making rural issues a priority – especially the expansion of connectivity,” said Callis. “Few things have the potential to reshape rural Tennessee quite like broadband. Modern education, healthcare and commerce all depend on affordable and reliable access. Tennessee’s rural communities have tremendous potential. When they succeed, we all succeed.”

Tennessee’s electric co-ops serve more than 2.5 million Tennesseans, many of whom do not have access to broadband.

In 2017, Gov. Bill Haslam and the Tennessee General Assembly recognized that electric co-ops are uniquely positioned to help close the state’s digital divide. The Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act removed restrictions that prevented electric cooperatives from providing retail internet access. Just nine months later, some areas of the state are already seeing the benefits. Two co-ops have active broadband pilot projects, and several others will begin connecting consumers later this year.

Gov. Bill Haslam on Tuesday, May 16, participated in a ceremonial signing of the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act, legislation that will expand broadband access in rural Tennessee by allowing electric cooperatives to provide retail service to co-op members.

“Electric co-ops are the natural partners to do this because of their nature,” said Haslam. “They are non-profit, they are already out serving many of these communities, and I think the people in our state trust the electric co-ops to provide that role. We are proud to have the electric co-ops to be our partners in this effort.”

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today signed the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act, creating grant funding and removing legal restrictions to allow the state’s private, member-owned electric cooperatives to provide high-speed internet service to co-op members. David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, made the following statement.

“Access to high-speed internet is critical to Tennessee’s rural communities, and we appreciate the faith that Gov. Haslam and the General Assembly have placed in the electric co-ops. Gov. Haslam’s signature today means that our work is just beginning. Tennessee’s electric co-ops have been asked to bring broadband to rural Tennessee. This is a massive task, but co-ops have a legacy of improving everyday life in our communities. We are excited about the opportunities created by the Broadband Accessibility Act.”

The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association provides leadership, advocacy and support for Tennessee’s 23 electric cooperatives and publishes The Tennessee Magazine, the state’s most widely circulated periodical. Visit tnelectric.org or tnmagazine.org to learn more.

 

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FOR MORE INFORMATION
Trent Scott | Vice President of Corporate Strategy | 615.515.5534 | tscott@tnelectric.org

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee House of Representatives tonight passed the Broadband Accessibility Act on a 93 to 4 vote. The legislation now moves to Gov. Bill Haslam for his signature.

“Access to high-speed internet has the potential to shape the future of rural Tennessee,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “Gov. Haslam, Sen. Mark Norris and Rep. David Hawk have been tireless advocates for this legislation. We appreciate them and everyone who showed their support for the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act and the people of rural Tennessee.”

The Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act removes restrictions that currently prevent electric cooperatives from providing retail internet access. More than 800,000 Tennesseans, many of whom live in areas served by electric co-ops, do not have access to high-speed internet.

The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association provides leadership, advocacy and support for Tennessee’s 23 electric cooperatives and publishes The Tennessee Magazine, the state’s most widely circulated periodical. Visit tnelectric.org or tnmagazine.org to learn more.

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FOR MORE INFORMATION
Trent Scott | Vice President of Strategy | 615.515.5534 | tscott@tnelectric.org

NASHVILLE – Today the Tennessee Senate passed the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act by a vote of 31-0.

There was no significant debate, however there were a number of clarifying questions that were asked by Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris, D-Memphis. In answering those questions, Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville once again presented an excellent defense of the legislation, eloquently discussing the cooperative business model and the advantages it brings to Tennessee’s rural communities.

“Their DNA, their birth, was to serve the rural areas of the state,” said Sen. Bell. “Taking that same model and applying it to broadband… is going to end the broadband problem we have in rural areas of the state.”

The companion legislation continues to move through the House. The House Finance Committee will hear the bill Tues., April 4 at 1:30 p.m., and assuming passage, the legislation will be sent to the House Calendar and Rules Committee later in the week. TECA expects the full House to hear the bill as early as next week.

You can view the discussion and vote in the Tennessee Senate below.

The Legislature continues its work for this year’s session, and is beginning to make some headway in considering the thousands of pieces of Legislation that have been filed. Some committees are beginning the process of ending their work for the year, which typically signals the beginning of the end for the General Assembly. Over the next week or two, the number of bills will shrink considerably and the work required to develop a budget for the State will take priority. Adjournment for the year is expected at the end of April.

This year, TECA is working to influence over 60 different pieces of legislation. First among our priorities is Governor Haslam’s bill to address the lack of high-speed internet access, the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act. This legislation is the culmination of two years worth of study and consideration by the Governor, his staff, and multiple state agencies. Following the conclusions of these studies, Governor Haslam and his administration developed a piece of legislation that would do three things: allow electric cooperative to become retail providers of broadband services, provide financial incentives (through grants and tax credits) for providers to extend service into unserved areas, and improve adoption of broadband service through educational efforts. The original version of the legislation was changed slightly, through an amendment, prepared by the Governor and his staff. This amendment broadened cooperative authorization to included television and video services, and restricted the provision of co-op internet and TV to the co-op’s service territory.

Both the Senate Commerce Committee and the House Business and Utilities Committee have heard the legislation, and have both voted unanimously to pass it. In general, these are the most difficult hurdles for any piece of legislation to overcome.  In the coming weeks, the bill will be considered by both the House and Senate Finance Committees before they could be heard by the full House and Senate. It is TECA’s expectation that the bill will ultimately pass, and will become law upon the Governor’s signature. If you have not had the opportunity to communicate with your own lawmaker, please visit takeactiontn.com and send a message to let your lawmaker know your feelings.

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