91 percent of Tennesseans have access to broadband Internet, while only 54 percent actually subscribe.
Source: Connected Tennessee broadband map
A new map showing where consumers can and can't get broadband Internet could help Tennessee providers cash in on $7.2 billion in federal stimulus dollars set aside for broadband expansion, a nonprofit lobbying group says.
Connected Tennessee's latest map shows fewer than 10 percent of Tennesseans, mostly in rural areas, don't have access to broadband Internet service.
Corey Johns, a project manager for Connected Tennessee, said identifying areas that lack access could help prioritize the allocation of stimulus funds.
"We feel like it positioned us very well," said Mr. Johns, "simply because most states do not have the information that we have at our disposal."
Jim Hunter, president and general manager of Trinity Communications in South Pittsburg, Tenn., said his company will pursue federal stimulus funds to expand broadband because of the high demand.
"We get requests daily, 'When are you coming into our area?'" Mr. Hunter said.
Greg Anderson, general manager of Bledsoe Communications Cooperative in Pikeville, Tenn., said his company is studying application guidelines to receive stimulus money.
He said he hoped funding will go to smaller companies and cooperatives rather than the big providers such as Comcast Cable and AT&T.
"How does that differ from bailing out the banks, General Motors and Chrysler?" Mr. Anderson said.
But a spokeswoman for Tennessee's larger cable companies said disagreed that small providers are more deserving.
"I don't think the size of the company matters so much as the goals," said Stacy Briggs, president of the Tennessee Cable Telecommunications Association, a group representing Comcast Cable and Charter Communications.
She said the companies still are sifting through the guidelines released this week, determining whether to seek stimulus funding.
An AT&T spokesman said the company still is exploring whether to seek stimulus funds.
Leaders from Connected Tennessee didn't take sides, saying their goal is to expand overall broadband availability.
"Connected Tennessee is willing and eager to reach out and work with anyone who is able to provide broadband service to the underserved and unserved people of Tennessee," Mr. Johns said.
The group's executive director, Michael Ramage, said that although more than 90 percent of Tennesseans have broadband access, only 54 percent of households subscribe to the service in their homes. That's up from 43 percent in July, 2007, he said.
Mr. Ramage said some stimulus money will be used for education aimed at increasing broadband subscriptions in areas where it already is available.
Applications for stimulus funding are due Aug. 14. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Utility Services will allocate the money.
"These grants are going to be extremely competitive," said Mr. Ramage. "So we want to make sure we do everything we can to make sure the applicants in Tennessee have the most competitive applications possible."