We last spoke to Brian Skelton, president of Tullahoma Utilities Authority, in 2013 for episode 54 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Since then, the Tennessee city's municipal fiber network, LightTube, has continued to offer Internet access, voice, and video services, attracting new businesses to the region.
For this episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, Christopher and Brian review the network's nearly 12-year-long history. Brian shares some of LightTube's early struggles and describes how the network has found success over the years, especially in promoting local economic development. He explains how a call center recently decided to locate in Tullahoma, due in part to the municipal fiber network, bringing 200 jobs to the city.
The pair also talk about how LightTube is adapting in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Brian says that the fiber network is holding up well, despite increased demand from families now stuck at home. Tullahoma Utilities Authority has suspended disconnections for non-payment during the public health crisis, but it has not lowered costs for broadband subscriptions. Brian shares how it can be difficult for a small provider to offer free or discounted services while continuing to cover its own costs.
To close out the interview, Brian relates his advice for other cities that are considering investing in broadband. While each community must make its own decisions, he's broadly optimistic about the potential for success in many cases.