FPU earns $1.75M broadband grant

Fayetteville Public Utilities is one of 17 broadband providers to receive funding in the third round of the State of Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Grant.

The local utilities system has been awarded $1.75 million as part of the grant program, according to an announcement made Friday by Gov. Bill Lee and Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe.

FPU realized the need for underserved customers to have reliable and affordable broadband service. These grant funds will provide this in the southwest portion of Lincoln County. The grant territory includes west of Highway 64, including the areas of McBurg, Dellrose, and Frankewing south to the Alabama border and back north to include sections of Ardmore, Blanche and Taft. This area has approximately five homes per mile and serves 1,009 customers.

FPU hopes to have the project complete in the fall or winter of 2021 but it could possibly extend into the spring of 2022, said CEO/General Manager Britt Dye Friday.

“I would like to thank all of the customers who provided such compelling feedback,” he said. “The letters of support we received from customers showed the overwhelming importance of providing reliable broadband to the citizens of Fayetteville and Lincoln County.

“We would like to thank Gov. Bill Lee, Reps. Pat Marsh and Rick Tillis, and Sen. Shane Reeves, as well as Crystal Ivey with the state Department of Economic and Community Development. Their unwavering support and dedication were instrumental in FPU receiving these funds,” Dye added.

Statewide, $19.7 million in broadband accessibility grants will expand service to support 31,000 unserved Tennesseans in nearly 12,700 households and businesses.

“One of my top priorities is ensuring the success of rural Tennessee. With the assistance of these grants, communities across 21 counties will now have access to broadband that will aid in that success,” Lee said. “I applaud the efforts of these 17 broadband providers as they play a fundamental role in our efforts to boost rural communities throughout Tennessee.”

The state continues to focus on expanding broadband access in rural areas. According to the FCC’s 2019 Broadband Deployment Report, nearly one in four rural Tennesseans lack access to broadband. In response, Lee has included $25 million in his fiscal year 2021 recommended budget to continue the grant program.

Tennessee’s broadband program has been recognized nationally for its efforts to expand broadband connectivity, most recently in a report by The Pew Charitable Trusts on “How States are Expanding Broadband Access.” The report highlights Tennessee’s investment in broadband infrastructure with a dedicated grant program and efforts to address adoption and digital literacy.

“With the leadership of Gov. Lee and support of the General Assembly, we are able to position rural Tennessee to compete on a level playing field,” Rolfe said. “Since 2018, funds have been awarded to connect 34,000 Tennesseans to broadband, and we are proud that this round of funding will nearly double that amount.”

The 17 grant recipients demonstrated a high need for grant funding as well as the ability to implement and sustain the projects long-term with strong community support.

Grantees will provide $29.8 million in matching funds to complete the projects for a combined investment of $49.5 million across the state in this third year of the program. Infrastructure should be built out with customers able to sign up for service within two years of receiving the grant funds.

“Providing rural broadband is key to the future economic growth and opportunity in rural areas like Lincoln County,” said Reeves. “Government partnering with the private sector to fill the gaps is paramount to ensuring broadband services are deployed effectively. I am very pleased these funds will help in this effort.”

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