For Immediate Release
Sept. 22, 2022

PARSONS, Tenn. — Thanks in part to the support of a unique and innovative partnership, 13 at-risk and distressed counties across Tennessee have secured more than $80.4 million in broadband expansion grants from the state. 

Through an initiative called the Tennessee Rural Broadband Project, an effort led by The Ayers Foundation, Rural Innovation Strategies, Inc. (RISI) delivered wide-ranging broadband technical assistance to rural leaders across at-risk and distressed counties experiencing significant gaps in broadband availability.

The initiative, which began by engaging with county mayors, and expanded to involve a diversity of stakeholders, including internet service providers, municipal utilities, electric cooperatives, and rural telephone companies, helped county leaders apply for broadband infrastructure funding through the Tennessee Emergency Broadband Fund – American Rescue Plan (TEBF-ARP) grant program. 

In total, 13 rural counties that worked with RISI — Anderson, Benton, Campbell, Carroll, Claiborne, Cocke, Decatur, Hancock, Hardin, Henderson, Jefferson, Union, and Wayne counties — will receive TEBF-ARP funding to build out much-needed broadband infrastructure over the next three years. 

The TEBF-ARP program represents a $447 million investment in broadband expansion across the state of Tennessee. Gov. Bill Lee announced the grant award winners earlier this month.

“The Ayers Foundation has always been committed to improving the lives of rural Tennesseans across the state,” said Janet Ayers, President of The Ayers Foundation. “A reliable and fast internet connection is no longer a luxury, but a true necessity of 21st-century life. Work, education, healthcare, agriculture, manufacturing, and entrepreneurship all rely on fast internet.” 

“Bringing the gold standard of broadband connectivity to these rural areas is crucial to rural job creation and prosperity — but it is not the end of our work. Rural places with good internet are better able to provide opportunities for the young Tennesseans who grew up there to stay and thrive in the rural places they love and call home,” said Ayers. “We look forward to continuing our support of these rural communities as they leverage these great broadband wins to create even more educational and economic opportunities for our state.”

The more than $80.4 million in successful grant awards will leverage, at minimum, an additional $34 million in private funding to reach a total of more than $114 million for broadband expansion in the counties supported by the work of The Ayers Foundation and RISI. Five internet service providers will be involved in deploying this new broadband infrastructure. 

“RISI is grateful for the opportunity to support broadband planning across rural Tennessee,” said Alex Kelley, RISI’s head of broadband consulting. “This work does not happen without committed and engaged public-sector and community leaders who truly care about improving the quality of life, business, and educational opportunities in their communities. The results of this program are a testament to the great dedication and effort put into this work by rural Tennesseans across the state.” 

Through its nationally-recognized Ayers Scholars Program, the Ayers Foundation has identified the need for all rural communities to have access to high-speed broadband if we are to give more Tennessee students the opportunity to return home to communities they love and grew up in after graduating from college. 

Preparing the future workforce by increasing college access and completion, ensuring rural communities have gold-standard broadband access, and creating new and emerging centers for professional collaboration, remote work, and entrepreneurship are all part of The Ayers Foundation’s integrated strategy to dramatically boost economic development in the state’s most at-risk and distressed communities.


About The Ayers Foundation and Tennessee Rural Broadband Project

The Ayers Foundation, led by Jim and Janet Ayers, is dedicated to improving the quality of life for the people of Tennessee, especially in the state’s rural communities. The Tennessee Rural Broadband Project was conducted in partnership with The Ayers Foundation’s sister organization, TAF Covid Response Foundation, and was made possible through COVID-19 relief funding from the governor’s office. Thanks to the clear vision set forth by Governor Bill Lee, and the generous partnership and support of the Tennessee Department of Education and the Tennessee Department of Economic Community Development, the broadband consulting services were offered at no additional expense to the counties that were served.

About Rural Innovation Strategies, Inc.

Rural Innovation Strategies, Inc. (RISI) uses data-driven strategies, leading-edge geospatial tools, and digital economy expertise to help partners and clients advance inclusive economic prosperity in small towns across rural America. RISI has built a team that combines deep rural roots and leadership in world-class organizations to partner with rural communities and support their efforts to build digital economy jobs, businesses, and infrastructure. RISI’s approach is rooted in collaboration with government, private sector, and non-governmental actors. The RISI leadership team has served in senior positions in the federal government, global technology companies, and leading educational institutions. As a result, the organization is adept at working across sectors and engaging resources and insights from diverse places to design and implement new strategies for catalyzing economic opportunity in rural America.


Contact: Mary Katherine Rooker
Crisp Communications

Contact: Rebekah Collinsworth
Center on Rural Innovation (CORI)