By Chris Gregory, Managing Editor

Tri-County received approximately $1.35 million in grant funding on Friday from the Tennessee Department of Economic & Community Development (TNECD) for expanding broadband in Trousdale County.

The money is part of a program started through the Broadband Accessibility Act, which the General Assembly passed in 2017. The legislation permits the state’s private, nonprofit electric cooperatives to provide retail broadband service — something they have been unable to do in the past.

“We are very, very, very excited,” said Paul Thompson, Executive Vice President/General Manager of Tri-County. “It exceeds our expectations but we’re thrilled to get assistance with building out Trousdale County.”

Photo courtesy of pixabay.com

The bill makes $10 million in grants available to electric cooperatives for each of the next three years. Tri-County applied for grant funding last year and will apply in future years, Thompson said.

The overall goal of the program is to facilitate broadband access to all Tennesseans while promoting practices that increase deployment and promote broadband adoption. Funding targets areas that are unlikely to receive services without grant funding.

“Over the years, we have worked with constituents, local governments, and state officials to expand rural broadband in District 40; it has truly been a coalition effort,” State Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver said in a statement. “This investment means children will be able to expand their knowledge, small businesses will grow, and families can stay better connected. I am so thrilled, grateful, and happy for our district.”

“I’m just thrilled that Tri-County has received this grant,” added State Sen. Ferrell Haile. “They have strived to be able to serve the residents of Trousdale County who are unserved in the rural areas for a number of years. I’m excited they received this grant, which helps put that into motion. They’ll do a great job.”

Additionally, DTC Communications — which serves Wilson and Smith Counties — will receive $1.7 million.

At a series of public meetings over the last two weeks, Tri-County announced that it planned to begin construction on Phase 1 of its operation on March 1. Phase 1, which covers most of Trousdale County west of Broadway, is expected to take a year to complete, with all of Tri-County’s coverage area in the county being completed in three years.

“We plan to do the entire (Phase 1) area in the next 12 months,” Thompson said during a Jan. 20 meeting at the courthouse.

After receiving notice of the grant, Thompson told The Vidette that 12-month window could be completed faster because of the award.

Tri-County officials noted that the utility would not be able to provide service in the southern portion of the county opposite the Cumberland River, which falls in the jurisdiction of Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Cooperation. State law does not allow one cooperative to extend service into another’s territory.

Some confusion came up regarding the project when County Mayor Carroll Carman stated during January’s County Commission meeting that Tri-County had agreed with MTEMC to provide service in that area. Carman stated later that he was mistaken in his original comments.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com.