Governor Bill Lee visited Jackson on Friday to speak about the state’s ongoing efforts to bring broadband access to rural West Tennessee residents at the Southwest Tennessee Connected, Broadband for All event at the Aeneas Building. .
In late September, Lee announced that nearly $450 million in grants would be awarded by the state to expand Internet access in Tennessee, particularly in the Southwest region. The grants would bring Internet access to “more than 150,000 unserved homes,” according to a statement from the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.
About $80 million of those funds will go to West Tennessee.
“What happens in rural Tennessee really matters to every Tennessean. It’s the backbone of our economy, of our rural community,” Lee said during the celebration.
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Other speakers included Stuart McWhorter, Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, Stephen Thorpe, CEO of Aeneas Internet and Telephone, and Billy Gordon, Vice President of Technical Operations at Southwest Tennessee Electric Membership.
Aeneas Internet and Telephone has independently partnered with both Southwest Tennessee Electric and the Bolivar Energy Authority, to bring much-needed Internet service to more people in West Tennessee.
Thorpe highlighted the impact broadband access can have on the region.
“As leaders in our communities, we have the combined goal of placing the Southwest Tennessee region at the forefront of job growth, economic development, and quality of life,” he said. -he declares. “One way to achieve this goal is to ensure that every Tennessean in the Southwest region has access to reliable and affordable high-speed Internet.”
He said access can change lives and vowed “the wait is over” for those in rural areas who have had to wait “far too long”, traveling far and wide to find an internet connection.
“We will end the digital divide,” Thorpe said.
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Gordon reiterated that internet access will improve quality of life and provide opportunities for advancement as a “conduit for online learning” for those wishing to further their careers.
Having internet access is essential for running a business, Lee said, and being able to educate. However, according to state reports, one in six rural Tennesseans do not have broadband access.
“It’s critical that we have the technology in every part of our state, and that’s what’s happening here today,” Lee said.
He said investing in the future is crucial.
“We are in a very good position in Tennessee … We have the resources to invest in the future of our state, so we should be spending significant amounts on infrastructure,” he said.
“West Tennessee is one of the most unique places in the country right now,” Lee added.
He stressed that growth is inevitable, which also brings opportunities.
“Growth equals opportunity, and that equals changed lives,” Lee said. The way to change lives, he says, is to stay ahead of infrastructure growth.
The grant brings more internet accessibility for families, Lee said.
“The dollars spent here get that last mile of broadband to the communities so that people can afford it, because the cost is really made possible by these state subsidies. We have to provide them with the technology of the most cost effective way possible.