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Tennessee Bill to Strike Anti-Muni Laws Tabled Until Next Session

Senator Janice Bowling and Representative Kevin Brooks have decided to table their legislative efforts to remove state restrictions in Tennessee. While backing for SB 1134 and HB 1303 was growing beyond the walls of the state Capitol, the sponsors decided to shore up stronger legislative support rather than risk derailing the bill entirely. 

Brooks told the Tennessean:

"We have had a lot of good progress, and we don't want to throw it all away," Brooks said. The votes were not there in the Senate, and he and co-sponsor state Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, have asked to roll the bill to the beginning of the 2016 calendar, giving them more time to garner support from their colleagues.

"We have pressed the pause button to keep it alive," Brooks said.

Communities around the state, including Bristol, went on record in support of the bill. The Tennessee Farm Bureau, representing 600,000 members, also backed the legislation

Energized by the recent FCC decision nullifying state laws restricting Chattanooga from expanding, Bowling, Brooks, and other local leaders thought the time was right to once again try to eliminate state barriers. The FCC decision has already been formerly challenged by Tennessee's Attorney General with the support of the Governor. Rather than depend on federal intervention to establish an environment that will encourage connectivity, SB 1134 and/or its companion HB 1303 would have solved the problem on the home front.

Economic development has been stifled by state barriers preventing municipal network expansions in the state but many constituents are plagued by lack of personal access. Incumbents who have spent millions lobbying to keep these restrictions in place during past legislative sessions, do not serve a number of rural areas. Those areas could benefit from municipal network expansions. From a March 6th Tennessean article:

"My district said we need help. We have some folks with little service, some folks with no service," Brooks said. "This is not about government intrusion; this is a bill about service exclusion."

Even though the legislation will not change state law this session, the FCC decision still stands for now. It may take years for the issue to be finally determined but hopefully the momentum will continue and more Tennessee voters will let their elected officials know they want to strike anti-muni laws from state books.

From an EPB Press Release:

“Thanks to a growing number of Tennesseans, who are contacting their representatives to communicate their critical need for broadband services, we made more progress this legislative session than ever before,” Senator Bowling said. “Next year, I hope the needs of the hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans with little or no broadband service will override the vested interests of the legacy carriers who refuse to serve them while lobbying to prevent community-based providers from meeting the needs of the people in our state.” 

WDEF News 12 covered the story:

We simply find it stunning that a majority of legislators in Nashville believe that their state is better off with slower Internet access. That is exactly what this is about - AT&T and Comcast have purchased another year of not having to worry about competition from the Tennessee General Assembly.

Bristol City Council Passes Resolution Supporting Bill to End Tennessee Muni Barriers

At its March 3rd City Council meeting, elected leaders in Bristol voted 4 - 1 to adopt resolution 15 - 8 reported TriCities.com. The resolution officially supports state legislation removing state barriers that prevent municipal electric utilities from offering Internet service beyond their electric service footprint. State Senator Janice Bowling and Representative Kevin Brooks are sponsoring SB 1134 and its companion HB 1303 [PDF].

Bristol Tennessee Essential Services (BTES) is one of the state's gigabit FTTH networks but like Chattanooga, is limited by state geographic restrictions. The recent FCC decision to overturn Tennessee and North Carolina state barriers has removed that legal provision but Bowling and Brooks want to make sure it happens and that Tennessee is able to embrace smarter policy without FCC intervention.

Bristol recognizes that its gigabit network provides a rare advantage in Tennessee. From the City Council agenda on the issue:

The service is an essential element of economic development, enhances educational opportunities, increases regional and global competitiveness, and provides a better quality of life. While we enjoy the benefits of being a “Gigabit Community”, there are many areas of Tennessee that lack access to high-speed broadband service. The ability to extend this service beyond the municipal electric service territory will provide an opportunity for customers to choose their provider and ensure a high quality of broadband service at a competitive price.

At the meeting, members of the Council noted that eliminating the restriction would allow BTES the ability to bring service to areas left behind by traditional providers. TriCites.com reported:

“This is David-versus-Goliath situation in that little, tiny BTES versus companies like Charter and AT&T have had the opportunity for years to develop places like Mountain City, Kingsport and Johnson City,” said Councilwoman Michelle Dolan. “Removing these restrictions would allow us to go into the cities that Charter and AT&T have not developed and for the city it’s a win-win situation.”

A PDF of the Resolution is available online and as a download below.

Community Broadband Bits 24 - Dr Browder of Bristol, Tennessee

Dr Browder runs Bristol Tennessee Essential Services, the municipal utility on the southern side of Bristol's Virginia border. For our 24th Community Broadband Bits podcast, he tells us how they built a FTTH network and how it has helped the community.

Like so many others, they started by seeking to ensure maximum reliability of the electrical grid. Now they offer telephone, television, and Internet access to the whole community. In fact, they just announced that they can offer a gigabit to anyone in the area, making them the fifth such city in America to have that level of service available. All of them are community networks.

One of the things Dr. Browder explains is how connecting all their schools with 100 Mbps and 1 Gbps connections has led to stronger schools and new opportunities for kids to learn.

Read the transcript from this episode here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

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Listen to previous episodes here.

Thanks to mojo monkeys for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

Welcome to The Gigabit Club, BTES!

Bristol Tennessee Essential Services (BTES) announced November 19th that it now has the capability to offer 1 Gbps service. While the BTES rates do not reflect a standard cost for the service yet, 1 Gbps is offered as an option to businesses and households.

From the BTES press release:

"Bristol now has one of the fastest, totally built out networks in the United States. To give an example of how fast, you can download about two hours of video or upwards of 200 songs in just six seconds," said Dr. Michael Browder, CEO of BTES. "For our residential customers, that means one person in the household can download a movie, while another is playing an online game, while another is watching an HDTV program – all without slowing down any of the activities. For our business customers, it opens the way for transporting and accessing 'big data', which is critical for economic development of the area."

The product is already being used by local students. A nearby elementary school is combining the 1 Gbps service with SMART Board Technology and participating in virtual field trips around the globe. Twenty eight-year-olds recently "visited" Egypt for a class on the pyramids with the help of an on-site pyramid tour guide. Gee, second grade was not all that memorable when I was a kid, but it sure would be these days!

We are always pleased to learn of significant strides made by municipal networks and want to thank Bernie Arnason from Telecompetitor for covering this story. We also want to congratulate BTES for their entry into the Gigabit Club!

Chattanooga Launches Fastest Residential Broadband Tier: 150Mbps

It's fast and it's symmetrical. Chattanooga, the nation's largest muni FTTH network will be offering the fastest residential package in the country by the end of the month: 150 Mbps.

Chattanooga's Electric Power Board (EPB) is ahead of schedule in the fiber rollout, planning to offer triple-play services to all 145,000 residential customers in its electrical territory by the end of the year. Dave Flessner at the Chattanooga Times Free Press covered this story and the paper posted a short audio clip of EPB President Harold DePriest at the press conference.

EPBFi is up to almost 10,000 customers, a number expected to double by the end of the year.

Comcast is responding to this aggressive muni network:

Comcast Corp. remains Chattanooga's biggest video provider and has also increased the speed of its Internet offerings and the number of high-definition television channels and movies it provides for its subscribers.

Tennessee, home to the famous Tennessee Valley Authority that brought the electrical grid the mountains long neglected by the private sector, continues to value public ownership of infrastructure:

Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey likened EPB's broadband expansions to what the Tennessee Valley Authority brought to the region during the Great Depression.

"What is happening today is equivalent to electricity coming to the valley in the 1930s," he said.

I'm guessing this 150Mbps plan is the first of more impressive announcements to come out of Chattanooga as they take advantage of this key community asset. The 150 Mbps press release is available here.

The article also noted a major economic development win in Bristol Tennessee - a $20 million newspaper printing plant that would not have been possible without their muni network. This testimonial is located toward the bottom of the page.

Hyatt [company VP] acknowledged that the high-speed data transfer and reliable fiber optics were the main reasons for locating the facility in the park. This service is essential as companies move deeper into the information age, especially with the timeliness of newspaper deadlines, multimedia, tricities.com, WJHL information, news, film and video that we have because of the fiber provided by BTES.