NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The COVID-19 pandemic created technology barriers for many rural Tennessee counties as people began working from home or participating in online learning. But the state is working to close the gap.

Taylre Beaty with the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development is the state’s Broadband Director. “I think the COVID-19 pandemic really escalated to the general public that broadband is not something that everyone has access to,” Beaty said. “It’s something that is no longer a luxury, it’s very much a necessity.”

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She explained how they’re using $400 million worth of coronavirus recovery funds to fund new broadband infrastructure projects in remote areas.

“This is federal funding that’s state administered. This is from the American Rescue plan. In the past, our program has gone between $10 and 20 million dollars and this time around our state has really made this a massive priority with the COVID relief funds,” Beaty said.

Beaty added that 218 internet service providers applied for the grant money, which is more than double what it’s been in previous years.

“Lots of interest from folks and I think for the first time we have seen so many providers in our state from across kind of all the different providers say we want to finish out this county, we want to finish out this territory, or this community, because we recognize it’s a problem,” Beaty said.

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The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development plans to announce the grant winners later this summer.