$6 million project to extend broadband to more county homes

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From left: Laura Monks of Tennessee College of Applied Technology-Shelbyville; Duck River Electric Membership Corp. President Scott Spence; County Commissioner Greg Vick; State Rep. Pat Marsh; Tennessee Commissioner of Economic and Community Development Stuart McWhorter; Gov. Bill Lee; Bedford County Mayor Chad Graham; County Commissioner John Boutwell; Taylre Beaty, broadband program director for TNECD; and United Communications CEO William Bradford.

At an event held Monday in Spring Hill, Bedford County officials joined Gov. Bill Lee and other state officials, along with officials of United Communications, to celebrate the Project Unite broadband funding announced in September.
Governor Bill Lee and Tennessee Commissioner of Economic and Community Development Stuart McWhorter addressed more than 150 guests at the event, hosted by United Communications, Middle Tennessee Electric, and Shelbyille-based Duck River Electric Membership Corp., to launch $53.4 million in internet expansion projects across Middle Tennessee. The historic investment will connect more than 14,000 underserved residents with fast, reliable fiber internet service in Bedford, Franklin, Giles, Lincoln, Marshall, Maury, Moore, and Williamson counties.
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Gov. Bill Lee

In Bedford County, Project Unite will bring a total of nearly $6 million worth of expanded broadband service. The state will contribute $4.3 million towards the project, with Bedford County and United each contributing up to $700,000. The grant will allow United, working in partnership with Duck River Electric Membership Corp., to offer broadband Internet service to an estimated 942 eligible locations.
State Rep. Pat Marsh; Tennessee College of Applied Technology-Shelbyville president Laura Monks; Bedford County Mayor Chad Graham; and Bedford County commissioners Greg Vick and John Boutwell were among those in attendance at the event.
 Based on recent census data, rural Tennesseans are ten times more likely than their neighbors in urban areas to lack access to fast, reliable internet connections.
“What happens in rural Tennessee matters to every Tennessean,” said the governor. “This is the largest grant of all the grants that the state has made in our history for the expansion of
broadband, and it’s a local effort based on local partnerships. We have the number one economy in America, and we need to make sure that is happening in every community across the state. We know that access to technology will make that happen."
The $53.4 million state grant is being supplemented by a $14 million investment from United Communications and more than $10 million committed by county governments, resulting in a total infrastructure investment of over $77 million in Middle Tennessee.
“Rural development and economic development are important for the state,” said McWhorter. “We value our local partners, and what we’re announcing today is another example of why those partnerships work.”

A symbolic check for $4.3 million from the state to United Telephone Company (United Communications)
“Whether it’s applying for a job, completing school assignments, working from home due to illness, or tracking personal finances, high-speed Internet access has become an essential utility, much like power or water,” said Graham in September. “Since taking office, I’ve been working with county commissioners, utilities, and the state to explore ways that we can get service to areas of the county where it’s still not available or affordable. I am delighted that this state grant will help us make significant progress towards that goal.”
“United was founded 75 years ago by farmers and rural neighbors who wanted to connect to one another,” said William Bradford, President and CEO of United Communications.
“We’re here 75 years later with largely the same mission. Through Project UNITE, we’ve brought service to over 17,000 locations, and we’re just getting started. Thanks to Governor
Lee and our local partners, United is setting out on a path to fix the digital divide for every single Tennessean, once and for all."
The grant-funded project will take up to three years to complete, including engineering, permitting, construction, testing, and connecting the service to homes and businesses. 
For any utility, rural areas are a challenge – the fewer homes there are per mile of road, the harder it becomes to justify the cost of installing expensive service lines. In much of the area covered by this grant, there are fewer than 10 residents per mile of line. The assistance which the state grant will provide helps to overcome that challenge and make it possible for the lines to be run.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Graham. “I want to thank Gov. Lee and Commissioner McWhorter for this state grant. I’d also like to thank all of the county commissioners for their support, and particularly Commissioner Greg Vick for his hard work on this issue. I’d also like to thank Tennessee Speaker Pro Tem Pat Marsh and State Sen. Shane Reeves for being there for us whenever we’re involved in any state project.
“And, of course, I want to thank both United Communications and Duck River Electric for their hard work on all of this. Duck River Electric is based here in Shelbyville, and United Communications is right in our backyard, and I think their concern for our community is evident.”

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