Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam says he will sign the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act (HB 529/SB 1215), a bill that allows electric cooperatives to enter the broadband business while maintaining the ban on municipal broadband services outside a city’s jurisdiction. The state’s House of Representatives pass the bill on Monday, 93-4. The state senate had already unanimously approved the bill a few weeks earlier.
“More than 800,000 Tennesseans don’t have access to broadband, and one in three businesses identified it as essential to selecting their location. Spurring deployment in our rural, unserved areas will open them up to economic investment and growth,” Governor Haslam said in a press release.
The bill also provides $45 million in grants and tax credits to promote deploying broadband to unserved rural areas. The governor estimated that more than 800,000 Tennessee residents do not have access to broadband today.
Update, April 28: Governor Haslam signed the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act as expected on April 25.
With electric cooperatives free to build out broadband facilities throughout the state, many expect them to begin fiber construction projects. However, Charlie Ergen, chairman of EchoStar and Hughes, praised the new Tennessee law as a possible inroad for satellite broadband. “This legislation opens the door for greater adoption of high-speed broadband to all of residents of Tennessee on a technology neutral basis allowing all types of broadband providers to participate, including satellite, which provides a cost effective means of serving the most rural areas of Tennessee," Ergen said in a written statement.
Hughes Network Systems provides satellite broadband service in competition with ViaSat’s Exede.