The Williamson County Commission stated its willingness to help fund broadband Internet projects in the county in two resolutions that passed unanimously on March 14.
The money will come from more than $46 million that Williamson County is set to receive in US bailout funds aimed at providing relief from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Management has received half so far.
The Tennessee Department of Economic Development’s Broadband Division is giving up to $400 million in US government bailout money for an emergency broadband fund. Government funds will cover up to 70% of approved broadband projects, while service providers will be responsible for the remaining 30%.
In the decisions, the commissioners indicated that the county is eager to help service providers cover their quota.
Commissioner Paul Webb has been at the forefront of coordinating the partnership between the Williamson County government and broadband providers.
“We have before us these two decisions with the purpose of showing the state that we have a strong interest in saving a portion of the counties (the bailout) money if we are lucky to receive it from the state,” he said.
Five broadband providers — Comcast, United Communications, Charter Communications, AT&T and Conexon — have expressed interest in building new infrastructure in the county, according to Webb.
United and Comcast have requested support from the county as well as the state. If providers receive grants, the county will provide a maximum of about $1.7 million or 10% of the Comcast project and no more than $3 million or 15% of the United project, according to the decisions.
According to TNECD, applicants with decisions documenting local support will earn points in the state registration process.
Webb said, “Having a letter to (the state) from the provider and us that we will agree to finance part of the cost of the service provider will enhance this grant and help us obtain a state grant for these projects.”
Several commissioners said that many of their constituents had expressed the need to improve broadband connectivity.
“In District Two in Bethesda, College Grove, Flat Creek, we have some people who really need broadband,” Commissioner Betsy Hester said. “We had a situation where schools were done remotely, and we had people who had to go into the public library and sit outside the library looking for a hot spot so the students could do their homework.”
District 5 Commissioner Beth Lothers of Nolensville said broadband has been one of the most significant issues of concern in emails from voters over the past six months.
“We have a lot of District 5 residents in the rural community who would benefit from this as well,” she said. “The eastern side of our county is one of the fastest growing parts of our county, but unfortunately, we need to keep up with technology for all of these families.”
Discussions about using the bailout funds to improve county-wide broadband services have continued since at least the summer. Earlier this year, Mayor Rogers Anderson said residents were encouraged to communicate their broadband needs to their local elected leaders.
“If you’re in an area where broadband isn’t available, we need to hear from you because these kinds of messages, the kind of documentation that has to be on file, makes a difference,” Anderson said. “We need these documents because I think most people think that because of Williamson County, everyone has broadband.”
The TNECD scholarships are expected to be awarded by this summer. The committee will then be asked to vote on decisions to co-finance the projects.
Anika Exum is a reporter covering Williamson County in The Tennessean. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org on Twitter Tweet embed or at 615-347-7313.
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