Charter chases $35M in grants for Tennessee broadband expansion

Charter Communications submitted a trio of grant proposals for broadband expansion projects cover three counties in Tennessee, seeking a total of more than $35 million from the state’s emergency broadband fund.

Its largest proposal is for a $34.5 million build which would deliver gigabit-capable internet to nearly 4,300 locations across Henderson County. That bid requests $21 million in grant funding, which would be supplemented by a $12.9 million investment by Charter.

Another application covers a $17.5 million project to bring high-speed internet to more than 3,100 locations in Sevier County. This includes a $12.25 million grant request and a proposed $5 million investment from Charter.

The company’s final bid is for a $6.3 million build covering more than 1,300 locations in Bradley County, with $2.3 million of this to come from a requested grant and nearly $4 million from Charter.

As the name implies, the Tennessee Emergency Broadband Fund – American Rescue Plan (TEBF-ARP) was created using money from the state’s allocation of Covid recovery funds dispensed under the American Rescue Plan Act. The state decided to dedicate $500 million of its $3.7 billion state-level fiscal recovery funding allotment to broadband, with up to $400 million set to be awarded to fuel broadband infrastructure projects. Funding is available to cover up to 70% of eligible expenses.

Grants are being distributed to areas which lack a fixed service providing speeds of at least 100 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up, with strong priority being given to areas lacking 25/3 Mbps service in bid scoring. Funding recipients will have three years to complete their proposed projects.

Applications were due by March 15. The first TEBF-ARP awards are set to be made in “early summer,” according to program guidelines.

The move comes as Charter looks to supplement a previously announced $5 billion plan to expand its presence in rural areas across 24 states. This plan includes $1.22 billion in government funding it won to cover more than 1 million locations in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) Phase I auction in 2020. Charter’s awards included nearly $92.9 million to connect more than 79,000 locations in Tennessee.

Charter has been working to beef up its federal funding with state-level grants to extend its reach even further. In February, the company scored $12.2 million to fund six broadband projects in Georgia covering more than 7,400 locations.

In December, Charter and municipal partners in Virginia were awarded a total of $22.5 million by the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative to expand broadband to nearly 13,000 unserved locations in the state.