Bridging the Digital Divide through Cooperation in Tennessee

October 25, 2018

Mélange encourages self-sustainable programs with communities in need through multicultural arts, media and education. It hosts and organizes multicultural art, media and educational exhibits, events and performances for the general public with the goal of promoting equality, inclusion and community building. With support from Voqal, it continued to conduct its Rural Broadband Campaign aimed at providing affordable and reliable publicly accountable broadband in rural East Tennessee.

In order to further its goals of increasing internet access in Eastern Tennessee, it worked with residents and other grassroots community organizations to develop greater member access to and engagement with Appalachian Electric Cooperative, Powell Valley Electric Cooperative, Fort Loudoun Electric Cooperative and Volunteer Electric Cooperative. It utilized broadband as an entry point for member engagement and democratization. Through this work, the Rural Broadband Campaign assisted in the development of an active board member election campaign within Powell Valley Electric Cooperative. And this active engagement did not go unnoticed.

Mélange found that sometimes when engaging with electric cooperative administrations, that the initial process could be viewed as adversarial by those in power. However, at a public broadband forum in Tellico Plains, the general manager of Fort Loudoun Electric Cooperative attended. After hearing what Mélange was telling member-owners he stated, “This group is telling the truth about broadband access in rural Tennessee. They’re doing honest work and have helped lobby for the improvement of Electric Cooperatives at the Tennessee House of Representatives in Nashville.” This showed the power of local residents organizing and building trust across the political spectrum, without compromising the organization’s positions.

Voqal believes the key to a more equitable world is an engaged, educated and empowered public. In order to create that public, it is vital that everyone has access to a reliable, broadband internet connection. Mélange’s Rural Broadband Campaign gets to the core of this issue and we are proud to support its efforts to connect Rural Tennessee residents.