Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn (R) known by industry observers as an outspoken advocate for telecom-related issues during her time in office, continued in that effort in an announcement published in the Lebanon Democrat. Blackburn reminded constituents that better access to quality internet is important to all residents of Tennessee, regardless of their political leanings.
“This effort began long before COVID-19 reached our shores, and will continue after it has left. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: you can’t have a 21st-century education, a 21st-century economy, or 21st-century healthcare if you don’t have 21st-century internet,” stated Blackburn.
The Senator expressed her appreciation for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), created to construct quality networks which prioritize higher network speeds. She is also one of the legislators who introduced the Accelerating Broadband Connectivity Act, aimed at incentivizing companies participating in RDOF bids to accelerate their workflow timeline. “While it is my hope that all of our students will be able to return to the consistency of in-classroom learning as soon as possible,” she said, “In the meantime we need to do everything in our power to invest in underserved communities and close this digital divide.”
Blackburn, along with fellow Senator Tammy Baldwin (D) from Wisconsin, has championed the Internet Exchange Act to improve broadband efficiency. With the nation responding to the ongoing pandemic situation, the senators have recognized the need for students to be able to keep progressing through their studies without being hampered by a lack of solid internet coverage. She noted that improvements have been made on both a nationwide and local level, but stressed that more work, and funding, is needed.
Last month, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee (R) announced a $61 million emergency grant to improve broadband access across Tennessee. The money, part of the state’s federal coronavirus relief fund, will be used to help deliver internet to areas deemed unserved or underserved. This follows an earlier effort in April. At that time, the Governor, along with Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe, and the support General Assembly members released $19.7 million in broadband grants to reach out to 31,000 state residents without any internet coverage.