A $447 million broadband investment could make internet speeds 1,000 times faster for residents of rural Tennessee

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — More than 150,000 homes in Tennessee live without adequate broadband, but Governor Bill Lee hopes to 447 million dollars In federal grants, the money coming into the state will get online.

“People are moving into Tennessee from across the country in record numbers, and we have an obligation to prepare our state for continued growth,” he told me.

But for Chris Dodds and his family, unreliable broadband access has been a problem for more than a decade on his five-acre property in Cookeville.

“I was so excited because I grabbed my wife and said, ‘Finally we’ll have high-speed internet. It’s optical fiber! Dodds said of hearing that nearly half a billion dollars were distributed to Tennessee companies to bring broadband to rural and underserved areas.

Dodds said his family always jokes that they know he’s walking down the driveway not because they hear the car on the gravel road, but because any movie or show they’re watching will start buffering when his phone automatically connects to his home WiFi.

“It is a perpetual circus of hardware manipulation and bandwidth manipulation to get our day-to-day tasks done,” he said.

He said that despite paying over $100 a month for the internet when they first moved in, they couldn’t count on it when they needed it.

“It’s unreliable any time it rains, any time there’s any kind of storm, we’d go a week or two without service. And let’s face it, that cuts off contact with the outside world,” Dodd said.

He explained that the lack of reliable internet became a bigger problem during the height of the pandemic.

At the time, he was starting his home entertainment business and his two daughters were distance learning. He said that to make sure everyone in the family was able to get their work done, they had to drive 20 to 25 minutes into town to find a restaurant or shop with free Wi-Fi they could use.

“There are times when I go into town just to send an email. There are times when my clients can’t reach me because my data is restricted,” Dodd said.

a speed testthat Dodd’s home internet speed is 10-15 Mbps, but when all fiber optic lines are set up, his speed will go up 1000 times.

“Audio, video, any kind of zoom, any kind of online learning, might work to some extent, but 10Mbps just doesn’t quite cut it in today’s world,” said Jonathan West, general manager of phone cooperatives at Twin Lakes.

West received more than $10 million from the Biden administration’s US bailout to bring faster internet to parts of Putnam County, which includes Dodd’s home.

West said the project will likely cost more than the millions of dollars that have been allocated to it. He said they will begin work on the project, which will span 200 miles, within the next 30 days, but that the whole process will take about 30 months. However, some homes may see an increase in internet speeds before then.

President and CEO of United Communications William Bradford received one of the largest shares, amounting to $447 million. He said his team was “doing backflips” when they saw the final total.

Bradford said he knows that getting all the materials needed to improve broadband access will be difficult given the current supply chain issues, but he is optimistic that they will be able to make it happen.

“That’s what we do day in and day out is we build projects in the toughest areas to serve areas of Central Tennessee,” he said.

Once all of the construction is complete, Dodd said, it will be a huge improvement in the lives of rural Tennessee residents.

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“It’s huge for us,” Dodd said.

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