During a zoom conference that took place on the morning of Wednesday, September 9, a group of officials from the Tennessee and United States governments convened to announce that Ardmore Telephone Company would be receiving a total of $9.8 million for the development of broadband internet in the area, half of which sum will take the form of a grant and half of which a loan.
Those gathered for the conference were US Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, TN Governor Bill Lee, TN Commissioner of Agriculture Charlie Hatcher, US Senator Marsha Blackburn, USDA Administrator for Rural Utilities Service Chad Rupe, and Ardmore Telephone Co. CEO Trevor Bonnsteter.
Secretary Perdue spearheaded the meeting, announcing the award to Ardmore Telephone Co. and specifying that said award would be in two parts – $4.9 million will be issued in the form of a grant and $4.9 million a government loan. Perdue noted that the money will “make a huge difference,” providing 4,000 people with broadband access.
Governor Lee then spoke, stating that the Tennessee leadership is “very grateful,” and noted that the working relationship between his office and the White House has been entirely positive. Lee then emphasized the role that modern technology plays in the agricultural industry and the other prominent industries that support the Tennessee economy, noting that broadband in support in Ardmore is going to “change the lives of 4,000 people.” In a moment of levity, Lee noted the he himself has only had a reliable internet connection at his home for less than a year.
Senator Blackburn, who has been in conference with County Mayor Bill Newman within the last month over this very issue, than added her comments on the award. Tennessee is “closing the digital divide,” Blackburn said. Blackburn thanked Governor Lee for his emphasis on expanding internet in the state, and commented on the previous use of government funding for broadband expansion, saying, “Tennesseans made good use of that money.” Responding to Governor Lee’s lighthearted comment and driving home the significance of the broadband issue, Blackburn stated that she continues not to have broadband at her home. “Filling in those holes [in coverage] is vitally important,” she said.
Commissioner Hatcher and Administrator Rupe then spoke, in turn, on the practical ways in which this development will affect people’s lives, with Hatcher noting, “You have to have high-speed broadband to conduct business,” and Rupe noting how vital a reliable internet connection is for children and seniors in this day and age.
Trevor Bonnstetter than spoke on behald of Ardmore Telephone Co., expressing his gratitude for the funding and noting the gratitude of his community. Bonnstatter said he receives calls daily from families with children who say that the internet service ATC provides makes a difference in their lives.
Following the conference, the Elk Valley Times had an opportunity to speak with County Mayor Bill Newman regarding the award. Mayor Newman wanted to give thanks for Bobby Goode, a former director at the USDA whom Mayor Newman stated to be the originator of this project. According to Mayor Newman, Goode began work on expanding broadband two to three years ago, and now that work has come to fruition. Mayor Newman also gave special thanks to TN Director for Rural Development Jim Tracey, who Mayor Newman said is a “big fan of Southern Middle Tennessee.” Mayor Newman concluded our discussion by simply saying, “It’s a great day.”