Norris updates lawmakers on work being done by TACIR to expand broadband access

NASHVILLE — Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) released the following memo updating members of the Tennessee General Assembly regarding the work being done by the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR), which he chairs, to expand broadband access in Tennessee:

To: Members of the General Assembly
From: Senator Mark Norris
Date: July 13, 2016
Re: Broadband and the Internet – Better Access. Not bigger government.

As Chairman of the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR), I am writing to provide an update on the status of our work concerning reliable access to the Internet and the broadband necessary to provide it.

In June of 2015, at my request, TACIR, which is comprised of 25 state, county and municipal leaders, voted to initiate a formal study to evaluate the “current status of broadband availability, deployment, and adoption in Tennessee.” The goal is to determine the availability and adoption of high speed internet access from all technologies to residences and businesses in Tennessee and to study and recommend actions which federal, state or local governments can take to increase the availability of broadband to everyone in Tennessee.

We have had several meetings and many substantive presentations since undertaking this study last year. We have entertained testimony from 30 stakeholders, experts and others including broadband providers and users, representatives of communities describing their challenges and needs, and technical experts explaining the capacity of various broadband technologies to meet current and future communication and data transfer needs.

During TACIR’s October 2015 meeting, Amy New, Assistant Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (ECD) (which is represented by several members on TACIR), testified that a survey would be commissioned to assist TACIR in better understanding a number of important issues underlying broadband deployment. That survey has now been completed.

In anticipation of our August 30 TACIR meeting, ECD will soon release the survey results. The results will be incorporated into TACIR’s final report to be presented in January 2017.

The report should lay the groundwork for expanding broadband access without expanding the size of state government.

The focus of our last quarterly meeting in May was on the regulatory landscape within which broadband providers operate. The August meeting will focus on adoption.

One of our goals is to help define the appropriate role of government at all levels in private sector deployment including measures to guard against inadvertent interference with it.

In our methodical, in-depth investigation thus far, we have learned about extensive investment in broadband by the private sector – companies of all sizes – and important plans underway to accelerate that deployment in Tennessee.

We also have learned about the federal government’s efforts to provide funding as well as pending litigation between the State of Tennessee and the FCC concerning federal preemption of state law. Finally, TVA’s role is evolving as it has recently exercised significant jurisdiction over pole attachments.

Our report will outline general recommendations and a number of options for consideration by the Governor and the General Assembly, some of which may require either new legislation or additional funding or both.

A preliminary draft of the TACIR report will be presented for consideration this fall in a public meeting broadcast via the internet.

I believe TACIR’s final report, which will be presented after the first of the year and before the next General Assembly convenes, will serve as the foundation for development of sound strategies to extend the reach of broadband technology to every corner of the state in the most cost effective and responsible manner.

Please do not hesitate to contact me or TACIR staff if you have any questions or need additional information.

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