Volunteer Energy and Twin Lakes Telephone: Cooperatives Continue to Connect Rural Tennesseans

Volunteer Energy Cooperative (VEC) and Twin Lakes Telephone Cooperative began collaborating in the fall of 2017 to bring high-quality connectivity to folks in Bradley County, Tennessee. Based on the results of a successful pilot project, the cooperatives have expanded gigabit connectivity to more areas. With a recent grant award, the partners will continue to offer the service to more rural Tennessee residents and businesses.

Catching Up on the News

When we last reported on VEC and Twin Lakes, they had announced that they would be launching the pilot in Bradley County. Residents and businesses in Bradley County have long felt slighted by the state’s restrictive laws that prevent Chattanooga’s EPB Fiber from expanding into their county. Over the years, Bradley County and Chattanooga officials have searched for ways to serve Bradley County, but the state’s insistence on protecting large incumbent monopolies by preventing expansion have left Bradley County folks without fast, affordable, reliable connectivity.

VEC and Twin Lakes commenced the pilot in the Camelot subdivision of the Bigsby Creek Road area of Bradley County. In a February 2018 blog post describing the first customer’s experience, subscriber Mrs. Charles Hollifield said, “We had no problem with the installers. They were on time and friendly. We chose the 25 Mbps because we do not download much but it works well. We haven’t had it quit once since we got it.” 

Since then, the initial pilot area passed 120 homes in the first pilot area. Later in the summer of 2018, VEC passed 545 more residences in two additional communities. Last fall, VEC received $1 million from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) to apply toward expanding fiber to approximately 730 premises in in Meigs and Hamilton Counties.

State Assists With Deployment

As part of the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act (TBAA) grants awarded in March, VEC received another $1.3 million which they’ll use to connect 867 premises in McMinn County. VEC expects to begin construction on the expansion of the network in the fall of 2019 and complete the project within 24 months.

VEC has consistently applied for grants to help fund expansion of the gigabit network to rural communities in their service area. In order to help secure the TBAA grant, they enlisted the help of potential subscribers:

“Thanks in part to the offer of partnership funds by the McMinn County Commission and in part to the community members who wrote numerous letters of support, the Spring Creek application was the only one submitted by VEC that was approved for funding in 2019,” noted VEC officials.

The TBAA awards, announced in late March, totaled $14.8 million and are aimed at expanding high-quality connectivity in rural areas of the state. Approximately 8,300 households in 17 counties are slated to obtain broadband service from a mix of 13 rural telephone and electric cooperatives, along with several telecom companies, including large national provider TDS Telecom. According to a press release from Governor Bill Lee, grantees have pledged approximately $20 million in matching funds.

logo-VEC.png States have an interest in investing in rural broadband infrastructure for residents who have been left high and dry by urban-focused corporate ISPs. In Tennessee, however, the state also stymies a valuable resource — local communities with municipal electric utilities already providing high-quality connectivity. If state policymakers would lift the restrictions imposed on places such as Chattanooga, Jackson, and Tullahoma, nearby rural communities with need which located outside the electric service areas could obtain broadband access from trusted municipal providers.

Deployment Follows Demand

In order to take a strategic approach to deployment, VEC uses a crowd fiber approach and deploys in areas where residents have expressed interest through preregistration.

In addition to Internet access, subscribers can sign up for video and voice services.

Residents can sign up for three different Internet access plans from VEC and Twin Lakes:

  • 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download / 2 Mbps upload for $49.99 per month
  • 250 Mbps / 100 Mbps for $64.99 per month
  • 1,000 Mbps (1 Gigabit) / 250 Mbps for $79.99 per month

Business services range from 12 Mbps / 1 Mbps for $54.99 per month to 1 Gigabit symmetrical service for $499.99 per month.