Tag: "tennessee"

Posted May 14, 2019 by lgonzalez

About ten years ago, we first reported on Johnson City, Tennessee. At that time, the community was in the process of installing fiber to improve reliability for their public electric utility. The Johnson City Power Board (JCPB) discussed the possibility of offering broadband via the new infrastructure, but they weren’t quite ready to move forward. Now JCPB has renamed itself BrightRidge and has not only started connecting local subscribers with fiber optic connectivity, but is offering 10 gig symmetrical service.

Past Plans

Johnson City has considered more than one model over the years before realizing the current plan. After initial consideration, they decided to move forward with a public-private partnership to first serve businesses and later residential subscribers. Later, they concluded that a public-public partnership with the Bristol Virginia Utility Authority (BVU) was a better option. After difficulties in Bristol with political corruption and state restrictions, however, that ultimately ended public ownership of the BVU, Johnson City was considering options again.

In 2017, they commissioned a fresh feasibility study to build on lessons learned from their own and others’ experiences and look deeper in the the possibilities of a publicly owned broadband utility.

Johnson City is located between Chattanooga and Bristol. Both cities have fiber infrastructure which has helped spur economic development. Being sandwiched in between these two communities requires Johnson City to be able to compete or contend with the possibility of losing employers and residents who want or need better connectivity. 

The JCPB also decided in 2017 to change their name to BrightRidge; they remain a “not-for-profit, local power company.”

An Eight Year Plan

logo-johnson-city-tn.png In July 2018, BrightRidge...

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Posted May 9, 2019 by lgonzalez

During this legislative session, state lawmakers in several states passed bills that allocated funds to broadband deployment and planning programs. In many states, elected officials are listening to constituents and experts who tell them that they need fast, affordable, reliable connectivity to keep their communities from dwindling. States that refuse funding to public entities, however, block out some of the best opportunities to connect people and businesses in rural areas. In places such as Michigan, Tennessee, and Virginia, states need to trust their own people to develop necessary broadband networks.

The Great Lakes State: Not Great at Supporting Local Broadband

Michigan’s HB 5670 caught the attention of community broadband advocates when it was introduced by Representative Michele Hoitenga in 2018. The bill was firmly anti-municipal network and after some investigation, it became clear that Hoitenga received guidance from lobbyists from big cable and telephone monopolies. HB 5670, with its sad definition of “broadband” and attempt to fork over state funds to big national ISPs didn’t go anywhere alone after word spread.

seal-michigan.png Folks from the Michigan Broadband Cooperative (MBC) and other constituents in rural Michigan voiced their concern and the bill seemed to disappear. In reality, the House folded the language into SB 601, a large appropriations bill, which has now become law. Section 806 lists the types of entities that are eligible to receive grants from the $20 million set aside for infrastructure -- public entities are specifically eliminated.

In Michigan, places such as Sebewaing, and Marshall have already proven that local residents and businesses need gigabit connectivity and that they trust services from their local municipal utility broadband provider. The language of SB 601 as written will also prevent local governments from obtaining...

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Posted April 15, 2019 by Katie Kienbaum

Plans for Holston Electric Cooperative to offer television service as part of its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network deployment are on pause following allegations from the east Tennessee co-op that broadcasting company Nexstar Media Group refused to engage in “good faith” negotiations over retransmission consent agreements.

Holston Electric Cooperative established its broadband subsidiary, HolstonConnect, in late 2017 after a state law change removed restrictions on rural electric co-ops. Currently, HolstonConnect is in phase one of its FTTH project, which will bring high-quality Internet access to underserved communities in Rogersville, Surgoinsville, and nearby areas. Subsequent deployments will connect the remainder of the cooperative’s service territory, partially aided by federal funding from last year’s Connect America Fund phase II reverse auction.

From the start, the co-op planned to offer a “triple play” of broadband, voice, and video services. However, failure to come to an agreement with Nexstar, one of the nation’s largest station operators, over access to essential local channels has delayed the delivery of television services to HolstonConnect subscribers. In early March, Holston filed a complaint against Nexstar with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), arguing that the broadcasting company demanded exorbitant fees and unfair station tying arrangements during negotiations with the co-op.

“Failure to Negotiate in Good Faith”

To carry popular television programming, networks must sign cable retransmission consent agreements with regional station operators. The FCC requires that these companies behave in “good faith” and make tangible efforts to engage in negotiations.

logo-nexstar-media-group.png Holston claims that Nexstar has not met the...

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Posted March 28, 2019 by lgonzalez

Lenoir City, Tennessee, has actively explored options for broadband for about ten years. After briefly considering broadband over power lines, the Lenoir City Utilities Board (LCUB) decided the time wasn’t right for the utility to offer Internet access to the public. The LCUB, however, is making a move to to open its fiber loop assets to potential partners, hoping to improve service for people in Lenoir City and surrounding areas.

Dark is the Way to Go

At their March 18th meeting, the LCUB members unanimously voted to accept proposals from private sector companies interested in leasing excess capacity on the utility’s fiber loop. According to LCUB general manager Shannon Littleton:

“There’s 80-85 roughly miles of 228-count fiber that’s around the perimeter of our system….We’re utilizing a small percentage of it right now. We plan on using a larger percentage of it in the future. We sat down as a group and decided there’s potentially 100 pair or 200 pair of fiber ... depending on what the board says, that we could put out to the marketplace for a period of time until the electric department decides to take it back for its own use.”

LCUB has already received requests to lease fiber on the network, suggesting potential competition and better options for folks in the rural areas of the LCUB service area. AT&T and TDS Telecom are incumbents with Lenoir City, but in the areas outside of town wired Internet access is difficult to come by.

Feasibility Results

LCUB deployed the fiber ring approximately three years ago for electric utility use, but has since hired a consultant to complete a broadband feasibility study with the asset in mind. The study estimated that Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) for all of LCUB service area premises would cost approximately $127.5 million. While it’s clear that people in rural areas of LCUB territory are lacking options, the more densely populated communities have fiber service from private sector providers. According to Littleton, approximately 13,000 customers are situated within a quarter-mile of the fiber optic ring and LCUB...

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Posted March 25, 2019 by lgonzalez

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...

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Posted March 7, 2019 by lgonzalez

Senator Janice Bowling has become a broadband hero in rural Tennessee and on the pages of MuniNetworks.org. Year after year, she introduces legislation aimed at expanding local authority to allow communities the ability to improve connectivity. She’s back this year with several bills aimed at expanding fiber in rural areas. 

Seeking Better Connectivity…That’s All

Like Bowling’s past legislation, related bills SB 489, SB 490, and SB 494 grant municipal electric utilities the authority “to provide telecommunications service, including broadband service” and specifies that they can do so beyond their electric service area. This change in the current law would allow places like her own community of Tullahoma to expand to serve neighboring towns. There is no fiscal impact from the Senator’s bills.

Bowling has seen firsthand how access to fiber optic infrastructure, such as Tullahoma’s LightTUBe, lifts economic development, improves educational opportunities, and helps a local community reduce costs. The city has thrived since investing in the network in 2009, while many of the communities that have had to rely on subpar service from the larger incumbents have limped along. 

SB 489 also extends authority for municipalities to collaboration for telecommunications and broadband service, to ease any uncertainty about public-private partnerships.

janice-bowling.jpg In her broadband bills, Senator Bowling defines “broadband” as 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) symmetrical, a move that illustrates the value of upload speeds in today’s economy. Rather than considering subscribers as consumers of Internet access, the Senator...

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Posted October 26, 2018 by lgonzalez

Earlier this month, Chattanooga’s celebrated as municipal network EPB Fiber Optics announced that they now have more than 100,000 subscribers. The high numbers indicate that the network is serving more than 60 percent of premises in the EPB service area. EPB's success also attests to the popularity of publicly owned Internet infrastructure that is accountable and responsive to the community that both own and use the network.

An Expected Milestone, Big Benefits

Hitting six digit subscribership this fall was no surprise based on rapid growth and intense interest in EPB’s affordable, symmetrical 10 gigabit connectivity along with other available speeds. When the city began serving subscribers in 2009, they based initial figures on an estimate of 35,000 subscribers within five years to break even. Within 18 months, they had already surpassed those goals.

Having paid off remaining debt earlier this year, more revenue is now freed up for more investment back into the system or to put back into the community. The utility is now reinvesting around $42 million per year back into the electric system and power rates are lower for the entire community, regardless of whether or not electric customers are EPB Fiber Optic subscribers.

"Contrary to the fears some had about us spending power funds to pay for this service, our power rates are actually 7 percent lower than they otherwise would be because of our Fiber Optic network and the business it has generated for us," EPB President David Wade said.

In addition to significant savings on power rates, Chattanooga has experienced an influx of economic development as tech companies have come to the city specifically for the network. “Gig City” Mayor Andy Berke:

"Our fiber optic network is today's locomotive that is driving Chattanooga's success and positioning us as a model for other communities. It is a powerful recruiting tool to attract new businesses that need reliable, high quality power and communications, as well as a catalyst for launching startups and expanding our existing...

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Posted September 5, 2018 by Hannah Bonestroo

What started as a pilot project back in 2014 has consistently expanded to more addresses. Now the “Little Gig City” has put a date on when they expect to complete the final phase of their community-wide fiber network — early 2020. “Right now we feel like we’re kind of in the home stretch,” says Erwin Utilities fiber optic engineer John Williams. 

When The Time Was Right

The small town of Erwin, Tennessee first explored the possibility of bringing Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to its residents in 1999. At the time, however, the community chose not to pursue a publicly owned network because only 20 percent of homes in the area had a computer and the initial estimated cost of over $20 million was too high for local palates. The market changed over the next few years and in 2012, the town finally felt it was time to invest. They constructed a fiber backbone that connected 45 SCADA locations and six county schools. By 2014, the city announced plans to develop a pilot project for business and residential connectivity in the downtown area.

The pilot project reached approximately 1,000 premises; the utility’s goal was to achieve a 25 percent take rate to ensure the service would be self-sustaining. According to Williams, the utility swiftly surpassed their goal and are now at 36 percent subscribership in the original deployment area. Erwin Utilities has expanded, passing a total of approximately 5,000 premises out of 9,000 total potential premises, which are also electric service customers.

logo-erwin-fiber.jpg Because Tennessee municipal utilities are subject to state law that limits their Internet service area to their electric service footprint, Erwin can only provide connectivity to a limited number of premises. The law creates a situation that protects incumbent monopolies, but forces rural folks who obtain electric service from a different provider to rely on ISPs that generally offer poor Internet access options via DSL or expensive satellite service.

The Ultimate in Self-Reliance

Williams, who designed the network, ...

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Posted August 29, 2018 by lgonzalez

FiberNET, the municipal fiber network serving Morristown, Tennessee, has been serving the community since 2006 with fast, affordable, reliable Fiber-to-the-Home service. FiberNET is one of those networks that quietly went about its business bringing top notch services for residents, businesses, and institutions without a lot of fanfare. If you don’t live or work in the area or follow developments in broadband policy and implementation, you may not be familiar with Morristown’s FiberNET.

Now is your chance to learn more.

The community has produced a short, high-quality film about the network and the many ways it enhances living in Morristown for residents, businesses, and local entities. Business leaders describe how the network has enhanced and advanced their operations. Jody Wigington, who we’ve hosted on the Community Broadband Bits podcast, describes how the schools and local institutions have access to a network to rival any connections available in urban areas.

What’s the best part, in his opinion?

“We’re not-for-profit and locally owned. So FiberNET was built for the people through the vision of community leaders. And remember, FiberNET provides local jobs for the community and our employees are are part of the fabric of life in the Lakeway Region.”

Check it out:

Posted July 20, 2018 by Hannah Bonestroo

In May of 2017 we congratulated Chattanooga’s EPB Fiber for exceeding 90,000 subscribers and contributing to lower power rates for all (Electric Power Board) EPB customers. Now less than a year later, there is more to celebrate as EPB expects to reach 100,000 subscribers by Fall 2018 and is still lowering electricity costs for all customers. 

The city-owned electric utility launched its citywide fiber optic network in 2009 and never looked back. The original plan issued nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in debt for the utility and had an estimated forecast for only 35,000 subscribers. The city is now reaping the rewards from its investment; the utility paid off the last of its debt earlier this year, and now projected revenues for the fiscal year 2018-2019 from the telecom division sit at $169.1 million.

For a detailed, interesting history on EPB Fiber Optics, take some time to listen to Harold DePriest talk with Christopher in episode 230 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Before retiring, Harold was the tip of the spear in bringing the network to Chattanooga.

Major Savings

While EPB has long been recognized for its lightning fast Internet speeds and has repeatedly been ranked among the fastest in the U.S. (including this year’s fourth fastest ISP in the United States), the utility’s fiber optic lines also help lower power rates for all customers by eight percent. Whether Chattanoogans subscribe to EPB Fiber for Internet access or not, they still benefit from the infrastructure.

The fiber optic network that EPB installed nearly a decade ago not only allow the ISP to provide gigabit connectivity, it was also strategically built on top of the preexisting power grid, creating its “smart grid.” This allows the utility to monitor its electrical system in real time and to read all meters every 15 minutes, saving the cost of sending technicians into the field. Additionally, the smart grid is able to instantly reroute power in...

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