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Task force calls for rural broadband initiative in TN

Currently ranked 37th in broadband, Tennessee should consider Kentucky a role model and build public-private partnerships to foster rural broadband.
Written by Richard Koman, Contributor

In Tennessee, a state ranked 37th in broadband access, a broadband task force called on state leaders to act aggressively towards building out broadband for the rural parts of the state, The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports.

After nearly a year of study and debate, a group of telecommunication industry leaders and lawmakers urged the state to create an agency similar to what Kentucky did six years ago to promote more and better broadband usage in Tennessee. State Sen. Roy Herron, co-chairman of the Tennessee Broadband Task Force, said the information superhighway is as critical to economic development today as the interstate highway was in the 1950s.

"This world is being divided between the wired and the fired," Sen. Herron said. "There will be those with high-speed broadband lines and those who are in unemployment lines. I’m really, really scared if we don’t act."

The task force recommended more competition among Internet providers and that a public-private partnership be established to promote more access and usage of broadband technologies. It takes as a role model a program in neighboring Kentucky called KentuckyConnect, a technology partnership between the state and private industry groups.
That nonprofit agency developed programs in schools, hospitals and businesses to generate greater access and usage of video and other high-speed Internet services. From 2004 to 2006, the growth rate of new subscribers to high-speed Internet in Kentucky was the highest in the nation, expanding from 24 percent to 46 percent, according to ConnectKentucky President Brian Mefford.

Unfortunately, the state can't even tell how many Tennesseans are currently connected because cable and telephone companies were unwilling to share data.

The study compared rural broadband to the distribution of electricity to rural America in the 1930s.

"Rural electrification was achieved only after a coordinated effort by the public and private sectors, which succeeded in driving full deployment and adoption of that technology to farms and small towns across the country," the report stated. "Widespread deployment and adoption of broadband also will require a coordinated effort by the public and private sectors."
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