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Gov. Haslam to expand broadband service to rural areas

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In a world fueled by technology, nearly 34 percent of Tennesseans don't have access to high quality internet services. 

It's why Governor Bill Haslam introduced a legislation to expand internet broadband service into rural Tennessee.

Haslam wants to lift the current restrictions that prevent co-ops from providing retail broadband service to an estimated 2.5 million residential and business customers across the state. He's proposing the state provide $45 million over three years in grants and tax credits for service providers to assist in making broadband available to unserved homes and businesses. 

"Some of those challenges, some of the most difficult, are faced by our rural areas. Rural areas have a lot of opportunity to succeed and they can do that through technology," said Haslam. 

The legislation comes after a year of study and stakeholder conversations by the administration.

In July 2016, the Department of Economic and Community Development released a commissioned study assessing broadband in Tennessee and options for increasing access and utilization. In addition, a draft report issued by the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR), which completed extensive work on the subject of broadband accessibility and adoption, significantly contributed to Haslam's broadband proposal. 

Marion County School superintendent, Mark Griffith, said he knows the impact technology and the internet has on our everyday lives, and is excited about Haslam's plan. 

"Technology plays a big part in teaching and learning. It does at the school level, but obviously we want to be able to expand that to the homefront for those students to have that capability," said Griffith. "We're good partners with Sequatchie County electric company anyway so if they get in that business we will entertain a partnership with those folks to be able to expand broadband to much needed areas in Marion county."

Amanda Crisp, a 5th grade science teacher at Jasper Middle School said it would provide more opportunities to engage her students.    

"They get so excited and so enthused in the lesson if just the smallest bit of technology is introduced," Crisp said. "Something so simple as looking at a cell phone device during school it just gets them so excited. Anything more than a textbook they like it they go crazy for it."

But for students like Sophia Dawson, internet access isn't available at home. 

"I don't like it at all because we don't have any internet connection. We can't really get on Google or any internet unless we use our data, which takes a lot of money," said Dawson. 

Dawson explained when most people would resort to the web to for answers on school work, she has to go about it the old fashioned way. 

"I have to think about it. I don't know any other way to get it, but I have to think and then I ask other resources like my dad or my mom or my brothers and sisters." 

But she said web resources would help her in her studies. 

"I can look stuff up or watch things on how to do something, like I'm not the best at math so I can watch a video on how to do math problems."

In the meantime, students and teachers are making the most of their situation, hoping high speed internet becomes a commonality throughout the community

Haslam will announce additional proposals during his annual State of the State address to the General Assembly on January 30. 

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