Grant Aims to Enhance Downtown Experience and Strengthen Local Economy

Picture of downtown Pikeville, Tennessee
Un​iversity of Tennessee Extension recently received $60,000 in grant funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission to provide much-needed free wireless internet to downtown Pikeville, providing relief and enhanced opportunities to Bledsoe County residents, visitors, local businesses, and ongoing economic development. Photo by S. Upendram, courtesy UTIA.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — University of Tennessee Extension recently received $60,000 in grant funding to provide much-needed free wireless internet to downtown Pikeville, Tennessee, providing relief and enhanced opportunities to Bledsoe County residents, visitors and local businesses.

Only 25.2 percent of Bledsoe County residents have access to broadband, making it the second-most digitally disconnected community in Tennessee. Funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission, this project will help alleviate the area’s ongoing struggle with the availability and affordability of broadband service and bolster economic activity.

“This project represents a tremendous opportunity to improve the historic downtown experience in Bledsoe County,” said Sreedhar Upendram, project leader and community development specialist with UT’s Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics. “In addition to providing internet availability and increasing the time residents and visitors spend downtown, this project can also reduce the costs of area businesses and provide flexible payment options for shoppers at the local farmer’s market.”

The city of Pikeville is fully committed to the project and will pay for data and maintenance of the 22 wireless access points. The downtown five-block area includes three dental and medical businesses, two pharmacies, four restaurants, one church, six government offices, 12 retail businesses, four law offices and a bank.

A coordinated marketing plan will be launched, including special events and a partnership with Fall Creek Falls State Park that will attract science enthusiasts through a specially designed geocaching app. UT Extension will also develop curriculum to train residents on digital literacy and internet security. UT Extension Bledsoe County director J.C. Rains will coordinate the installation, program promotion and educational activities in Pikeville.

Information will be collected as part of the project evaluation, and a cost-benefit analysis will be used to help leverage funding and secure reliable and affordable broadband service for willing residents. A long-term goal of this project is to achieve 100 percent digital connectivity for Pikeville and Bledsoe County.

Through its land-grant ​mission of research, teaching and Extension, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture touches lives and provides Real. Life. Solutions. ag.tennessee.edu.

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Contact:

Tina M. Johnson, Agricultural and Resource Economics, 865-974-7418, tjohnson@utk.edu