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TN Communities Expand Access to Internet as End of Net Neutrality Begins

TVA will install 3,500 miles of fiber optic lines across its seven-state coverage area over the next three years. (Twilight Jones/flickr.com)
TVA will install 3,500 miles of fiber optic lines across its seven-state coverage area over the next three years. (Twilight Jones/flickr.com)
May 22, 2017

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. -- What you can access on the internet may soon change with the Federal Communications Commission's vote to begin rolling back net neutrality regulations late last week.

"Net neutrality” refers to the expectation that internet service providers will provide equal access to all content regardless of source. Opponents say it will limit access to information.

But right now in Tennessee, plans are underway that could increase the speed at which customers access information on the web. This month, TVA announced it was upgrading its network, installing 3,500 fiber optic lines across its seven-state region. The Electric Power Board of Chattanooga installed fiber lines seven years ago.

Eric Friedman, managing member at Broadband Collective, explained that, aside from improving online access, it also is helping when homes lose power.

"The savings by this fiber being laid - which has created a smart electrical grid for the community and the way they were able to solve this problem by redirecting electricity - is saving them money,” Friedman said; "and it's saving the community money in terms of downtime."

Last week, Gov. Bill Haslam signed the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act, allowing the state's nonprofit electric cooperatives to offer retail broadband services and providing $45 million in grants and tax credits to assist in making the technology available to under-served homes and communities.

Tennessee currently ranks 29th in the country for broadband access, with 34 percent of rural residents in the state lacking access to the internet at recognized minimum standards. Friedman said technology such as fiber optic and broadband can change entire communities.

"We need to learn how to use these technologies to be more competitive, more effective and to really serve our citizens,” he said. “And this is a way to do a lot of things we could be doing if we had better connectivity for all people, particularly under-served communities."

Reliable access to high speed internet can enable services such as online education, home-based jobs and businesses, and even telemedicine.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - TN