The Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act is part of Haslam’s NextTennessee legislative plan. (Photo: Staff)

Gov. Bill Haslam signed legislation to increase high-speed internet access for underserved and rural residents. 

The Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act provides $45 million over three years in grants and tax credits for service providers to assist in making broadband available to unserved homes and businesses.

Tennessee currently ranks 29th in the U.S. for broadband access, with 34 percent of rural Tennessee residents lacking access at recognized minimum standards.

"More than 800,000 Tennesseans don’t have access to broadband, and one in three businesses identified it as essential to selecting their location," Haslam said. "Spurring deployment in our rural, unserved areas will open them up to economic investment and growth."

The plan will also permit Tennessee’s private, nonprofit electric cooperatives to provide retail broadband service and make grant funding available to the state’s local libraries to help residents improve their digital literacy skills and maximize the benefits of broadband. 

Last month, Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, who fought for broadband expansion last legislative session, explained how the legislation will impact residents in the region.

Cleveland's Volunteer Energy Cooperative—which services a large area of Bradley County—can now begin direct negotiations on contracts with EPB to bring the gig to Bradley County, he said. 

He also said there's more work to be done on the issue but that this "baby step" is still a great one. 

The Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act is part of Haslam’s NextTennessee legislative plan aimed at building and sustaining economic growth and the state’s competitiveness for the next generation of Tennesseans.