Tag: "tennessee"

Posted March 2, 2017 by htrostle

This article was co-written with ILSR's Energy Democracy initiative research associate, Karlee Weinmann, and is cross-posted on ILSR.org.

Ouachita Electric Cooperative, nestled deep in south-central Arkansas, is an unlikely innovator in a pair of industries struggling to adapt to shifting market dynamics: electricity and broadband.

Despite rising demand for energy efficiency and renewable electricity generation, large investor-owned utilities -- and many rural electric co-ops -- have resisted programs to address those needs. Likewise, corporate Internet service providers frequently offer shoddy service at high rates, a particular problem in rural areas with limited competition.

But Ouachita Electric found a way to do both things better, with complementary technologies. Fiber-optic network investments provided lower cost Internet access, but also provide an information backbone for the electric utility that can reduce outage times and verification for energy savings programs. The network and the efficiency programs reduce costs for a customer base dominated by low-income households that can now reinvest their earnings elsewhere in the community.

Inclusive Financing

The utility’s tariff-based, on-bill financing program -- known as HELP PAYS -- allows customers to invest in energy efficiency upgrades at their homes, like insulation and heat pumps, with no upfront cost. Ouachita Electric covers eligible expenses, then recoups its buy-in through payments from participating customers on their monthly bills. Customers immediately pay less thanks to utility-financed energy-saving improvements.

Unlike other energy efficiency programs, the opt-in “inclusive financing” program, HELP PAYS, enables all Ouachita customers to capture significant benefits:

  • Low-income households can pay, because they don’t need to come up with thousands of dollars upfront for qualifying improvements.
  • Renters can...
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Posted March 1, 2017 by christopher

Susan Crawford has come back to the podcast to tell us about her recent travels in North Carolina and Tennessee, talking to people on the ground that have already built fiber-optic networks or are in the midst of figuring out how to get them deployed.

Susan is a professor at Harvard Law, the author of The Responsive City: Engaging Communities Through Data-Smart Governance and Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age, and a champion for universal high quality Internet access.

We have an informal discussion that ranges from what is happening on the ground in North Carolina and Tennessee to the role of federal policy to why Susan feels that municipal wholesale approaches are important to ensuring we have better Internet access.

It was a real treat to have Susan back on the show and to just have a discussion about many of the issues that don't always come up in more formal presentations or media interviews. We hope you enjoy it! Susan was previously on episode 125 and episode 29.

Read the transcript for the show here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 21 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Break the Bans for the music. The song is ...

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Posted February 23, 2017 by lgonzalez

Schools in Greeneville, Tennessee, are about to save on Internet connectivity to the tune of $50,000 per year, thanks to a partnership with the municipal electric utility.

Local Utility, Local Solution

Greeneville City Schools (GCS), which obtains Internet access via the state’s Education Networks of America (ENA), used to obtain cable connections from big providers that worked with ENA. Comcast and CenturyLink are two of the local providers that lease lines to the schools with ENA as the entity that arranged the connections. Not anymore.

GCS, ENA, and the Greeneville Light & Power System (GLPS) have entered into a new partnership to use GLPS fiber-optic infrastructure to bring Internet access to school facilities. As a result, the school will cut telecommunications costs by approximately $50,000 per year and double their capacity.

Assistant Director of Schools and Chief Technology Officer Beverly Miller told the Greeneville Sun:

“GCS is extremely pleased and excited about moving network fiber optic cabling dependence to the local community power provider. GLPS is an exceptional electrical provider with a stellar reputation for reliability and high performance. In addition to the expectation of improved service, the school district anticipates significant financial savings as a result of this new partnership.”

According to GLPS General Manager Bill Carroll, the utility already had significant infrastructure in place, which it uses for its own facilities. Connecting GCS schools and administration facilities wasn’t a difficult undertaking. In fact, GLPS hopes to reproduce the plan for the Greene County Schools to reduce their costs in a similar fashion:

“We have 2,200 miles of high voltage (power) lines and just 60 miles of fiber, mostly in the city,” Carroll said. “We’ve been routing fiber very carefully to pass by government buildings, schools and other folks we can serve in the future. At some point, we can do the same for Greene County’s schools and government buildings, but it’s a matter of logistics.”

Starting With The Schools

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When local schools reduce costs by partnering with municipal utilities...

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Posted February 21, 2017 by lgonzalez

While Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s “Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act” has been in the news, several other Legislators have introduced companion bills earlier this month that deserve attention.

A Few Gems

SB 1058 and HB 0970, from Senator Janice Bowling and Representative Dan Howell, would allow municipal electric utilities, such as Chattanooga’s EPB, Tullahoma Utilities Board, or Jackson Energy Authority to expand beyond their electric service area. SB 1045 and HB 1410 reclaims local authority for municipalities that want to offer telecommunications service either alone or with a partner.

HB 0970 has been assigned to the House Business and Utilities Committee; SB 1058 was referred to the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee.

Bowling has also introduced SB 1045, a bill that allows municipal electric utilities and electric cooperatives the ability to offer telecommunications services either on their own or with private sector partners. SB 1045 and it’s companion, HB 1410, sponsored by Terri Lynn Weaver in the House, specifies that there are to be no geographic limits to the service area. SB 1045 and HB 1410 are also in the same committees as SB 1058 and HB 0970.

Correcting Existing Problems

The EPB challenged restrictive state law in 2015; the FCC determined that the law was inconsistent with federal goals. The agency preempted both Tennessee and North Carolina's laws that inhibit municipal electric utilities from expanding. When Tennessee and North Carolina appealed the FCC decision, however, the appellate court determined that that states had the right to impose those laws on local communities and reversed the preemption.

Tennessee's current state law prevents municipal electric utilities that offer Internet access and/or video within their electric service area to expand beyond those geographical limits. These new bills propose removing the restrictions; they also contain a clause...

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Posted February 20, 2017 by lgonzalez

In January, Governor Bill Haslam announced that he and Senator Mark Norris would introduce legislation to provide grant funding and tax credits to private companies in order to expand rural connectivity in Tennessee. In a recent Knoxville News Sentinel, Christopher took another look at more subsidies to large private providers and how that strategy has worked out so far.

We've reprinted the op-ed here:

Christopher Mitchell: State needs better broadband, not subsidies

If you were tasked with improving the internet access across Tennessee, a good first start would be to examine what is working and what’s not. But when the General Assembly debates broadband, it frequently focuses on what AT&T and Comcast want rather than what is working.

Broadband expansion has turned into a perennial fight between Tennessee’s municipal broadband networks and advocates of better connectivity on one side and AT&T and Comcast on the other. On one side is a taxpayer-subsidized model, while the other depends solely on the revenues of those who choose to subscribe. But which is which?

AT&T has received billions of taxpayer dollars to build its networks, whereas Chattanooga, Tullahoma and Morristown, for example, financed their fiber-optic networks by selling revenue bonds to private investors and repaying them with revenues from their services. The big telephone companies are massively subsidized, whereas municipal networks have generally not used taxpayer dollars.

It is true that after it began building, Chattanooga received a Department of Energy one-time stimulus grant for $111 million, but that was actually less than AT&T is getting from just one federal program in Tennessee alone – over $125 million from the Connect America Fund. And most of the money to Chattanooga went into devices for its smart grid that have since led to massive job gains.

These community networks offer modern connectivity. Chattanooga offers 10,000 Mbps to anyone in its territory. AT&T is getting enormous checks from Uncle Sam to deliver 10 Mbps. Comcast will soon offer 1,000 Mbps, but only for downloads. If you are a small business trying to upload lots of data, Comcast won’t get you there.

According to a 2016 Consumer Reports study, Comcast and AT&T were among the most hated companies across the board. Chattanooga’s Electric...

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Posted January 27, 2017 by lgonzalez

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam doesn’t want the public’s money to pay for publicly owned Internet infrastructure. He has no problem, however, writing a $45 million check backed by taxpayers and payable to the likes of AT&T in Tennessee.

"A Little Song, A Little Dance, A Little Seltzer Down Your Pants"

On Wednesday, Haslam introduced the “Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act,” another state sponsored handout to the national Internet Service Providers who have made countless broken promises to expand to rural areas. The bill contains some provisions dressed up to look like measures that make big strides for the state, and will be helpful, but it's not ground breaking.

The bill lifts existing state restrictions on electric cooperatives that may wish to offer retail Internet access to members. The state restrictions on co-ops are dubious anyway and could be challenged under federal law. For the state’s electric cooperatives that reach all over the rural areas, the bill is welcome, but communities near Chattanooga’s EPB gets the short end of the stick.

EPB, Chattanooga’s Municipal Electric Utility, has advocated for several years to expand beyond their service territory. Neighboring communities, such as Bradley and Polk Counties, need better connectivity because the national providers don’t consider their regions a good investment. Nevertheless, state law prohibits EPB from expanding to them and this legislation won't change that.

"Don't Confuse The Conversation"

State Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, where the local municipal network has jump started economic development and improved the quality of life, pointed out the problem in Haslam’s shell game legislation:

Bowling said the measure only goes halfway in removing regulatory limits that she said now limit fiber optic service in much of Tennessee "and keeps too many rural citizens from participating in the 21st century digital economy."

"I'm certainly glad that electric co-ops will be able to retail fiber services under this measure and I think that will be significant," she...

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Posted January 19, 2017 by htrostle

We have already seen Virginia and Missouri take up legislation to preempt local control and deter municipal networks. Although bearing innocuous names such as the “Virginia Broadband Deployment Act,” these bills stifle competition instead of empowering communities. 

Local governments, however, have often stepped forward to champion municipal networks and push back against state preemption bills. We’ve collected several over the years. Let these excerpts of resolutions from years past inspire you throughout the rest of 2017:

2011 - Chapel Hill, North Carolina: “WHEREAS, historically it was government that funded much of the current corporate telecommunications infrastructure in the United States and government paid for and developed the Internet on which these providers depend for their profit…” (Read more here.)

2013 - Alpharetta, Georgia: “WHEREAS, House Bill 282 would tie the hands of municipal officials in their efforts to build digital networks they need to attract economic development and create a high quality of life for their citizens...” (Read more here.

2014 - The Louisiana Municipal Association: “WHEREAS, local governments, being closest to the people are the most accountable level of government and will be held responsible for any decisions they make...” (Read more here.)

Many other cities have also passed resolutions opposing state legislation and encouraging local control, including:

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Posted January 13, 2017 by Anonymous

This is the transcript for episode 235 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Lee Brown and John Williams from Erwin, Tennessee, join Christopher Mitchell to talk about the incremental build out of a Fiber-to-the-Home network. Listen to this episode here.

Lee Brown: The great thing about municipal broadband is it allows each community to decide what's right for them. We're in the greatest place of all time is being able to make that decision to do what's right for your community.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 235, of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast from the Institute from Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. We wanted to interview folks from Erwin, Tennessee for some time, now, and this week we're lucky to have them. The community, population around 6,000, has been building out a Fiber-to-the-Home system incrementally for the past few years. In addition to improving connectivity for residents and local businesses, the network has improved operations for the municipality's other utilities. Today, Christopher talks with Lee Brown, general manager of Erwin Utilities, and John Williams, fiber engineer. Lee and John, describe how the community had carefully considered what was best for them, before pursuing a fiber network. As it turns out they had considered fiber for a while before the circumstances were right to deploy. They started with a pilot program, and the network continues to grow. John and Lee offer Erwin's rational for the incremental approach, and share the way the network has improved services for all utility customers. Not only those that take Internet access services. Now, here's Christopher talking with Lee Brown, general manager, and John Williams, fiber engineer from Erwin Utilities in Erwin, Tennessee.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell, and today I'm speaking with two gentlemen from Erwin, Tennessee. We'll start with Lee Brown, the general manager of Erwin Utilities. Welcome to the show.

Lee Brown: Thanks, Chris. We appreciate being able to be part of this, today.

Christopher Mitchell: We also have with us, John Williams a fiber-optic engineer for Erwin Utilities. Welcome to the show.

...

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Posted January 11, 2017 by lgonzalez

It’s no small feat to plan, deploy, and operate a municipal citywide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, but communities are doing it. We’ve put together a Citywide Municipal FTTH Networks list and a map, with quick facts at your fingertips. If your community is considering such an investment, this list can offer a starting point on discovering similarly situated locations to study.

The list is divided by state and each state heading offers a description of any barriers that exist and a link to the statute in question. Under each community, we also included relevant links such as to the provider’s website, coverage on MuniNetworks.org, and reports or resources about the network.

We used four basic criteria to put a community on our list and map:

  • The network must cover at least 80% of a city.
  • A local government (city, town, or county) owns the infrastructure.
  • It is a Fiber-to-the-Home network.
  • It is in the United States. 

Share the list far and wide and if you know of a community network that meets our criteria that we missed, please let us know. Contact H. Trostle at htrostle@ilsr.org to suggest additions.

Posted January 10, 2017 by christopher

Nestled in the Cherokee National Forest on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, not far from Virginia, is Erwin. Erwin Utilities runs the water, wastewater, and electricity for the town of 6,000 and long wanted to invest in a fiber network. After years of following industry trends, they developed a plan to build it and tell us how in Community Broadband Bits episode 235.

General Manager Lee Brown and Fiber-Optic Engineer John Williams join us to discuss what started as a pilot project but is now an incremental plan to connect the entire community with a Fiber-to-the-Home network offering high speed Internet access and telephone service.

We discuss the reaction from the community, financing, and how they are using it for smart utility management -- not only for electricity but also for water services.

Read the transcript of the show here

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 29 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Admiral Bob for the music. The song is Turbo Tornado (c) copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. Ft: Blue Wave Theory.

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