Should TVA get into the broadband business?

Johnson City Press • Jul 9, 2018 at 10:56 AM

In 1933, Congress and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the Tennessee Valley Authority by charter to share electricity, modern agricultural practices and economic development with especially poor and rural areas in a seven-state region.

The federal utility built and maintained hydroelectric dams, made fertilizer for farmers suffering from low crop yields, helped hold back destructive flooding, controlled forest fires and rebuilt fish and wildlife habitats.

The electricity powering our homes today is mostly generated and sold to our public utilities, whether it’s BrightRidge, Elizabethton Electric Department or Erwin Utilities, by the TVA.

There’s no arguing that the agency helped modernize our region by bringing electric service, which was quickly becoming a necessity to keep up with the rest of the country.

One of the state’s candidates for U.S. Senate recently used that same reasoning to advocate for a new role for the TVA.

Democrat Phil Bredesen, Tennessee’s former governor, wants the utility to oversee the expansion of broadband internet access to underserved rural areas in Tennessee and elsewhere.

“TVA is perfect to fix this digital divide,” Bredesen said in a statement. “It is in their DNA; they have the systems; they have the finances and have the infrastructure to accomplish this task.”

Bredesen said the TVA has already taken the first step to be able to provide the service by undertaking a $300 million project last year to enhance its fiber optic network to better control its distribution system.

Thirty-four percent of rural Tennesseans lack access to high-speed internet, leaving them without a resource that is now needed for homework, commerce, communications, health care and more.

The issue of lacking broadband accessibility in the state was addressed last year by the legislature, which approved $45 million over three years to incentivize public and private utilities and internet service providers to expand the reach and speeds of broadband internet.

In a floor speech in the House before the bill easily passed, Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, likened the law to other public projects, including the TVA, and said it was time for the government to step in to help provide the high-speed internet services that private telecommunications companies were unwilling to.

Still, some lawmakers said they feared the $45 million was not enough to fund the expensive and expansive projects needed to reach those who needed it most.

Others have sounded opposition to Bredesen’s proposal for the TVA, calling it an expansion of government, a dirty proposition for some.

Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Bredesen’s likely challenger for the seat in the Senate come November, called broadband as a utility “a big government solution that will raise taxes,” according to the Washington Post.

Blackburn told the media outlet she believes the TVA should stick to its core mission, which has served Tennesseans well for decades.

So, we want to hear from you. Should the TVA get into the broadband business?

Send your comments to [email protected]. Please include your name, telephone number and address for verification. Letters may be no longer than 300 words and will be edited for grammar, style and length.

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