Erwin Utilities, with whom we last spoke on Episode 431 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, has secured approval from Unicoi County Commission, Town of Erwin, and Town of Unicoi in a proposed project to expand its fiber network outside of its current electric footprint. The next step is to get state aproval, which it hopes to do in the next General Assembly sesson, which began on January 12th. The proposed area includes three pockets the utility says would otherwise be left behind in Unicoi County's plan to bring high-speed broadband to all.
Tag: "erwin tn"
This week on the podcast Christopher welcomes back Lee Brown, President and CEO of Erwin Utilities, to talk about what’s been going on since we last spoke with them more than three and a half years ago. Erwin is a town of around 6,000 and the county seat of Unicoi County, Tennessee, along the state’s eastern border.
The two revisit the success Erwin has seen with an incremental Fiber-to-the-Home buildout over the last six years. The utility at this point has no debt, and covers the whole town aside from one remaining pocket to be complete early next year. It has expanded into the county, bringing affordable 25mbps and gigabit Internet access to residents, and enjoys a take rate of nearly 50%.
Lee reflects on the benefits of Erwin’s strategic approach to building a fiber network and lessons learned. In 2019 it completed the transition to becoming the Erwin Utilities Authority, which will give it flexibility moving into the future, and in April of this year connected its 3000th customer.
This show is 26 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.
Read the transcript for this episode.
Subscribe to the Building Local Power podcast, also from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, on iTunes or ...Read more
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.
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, ...Read more
Erwin Fiber is growing in stages and now that the utility in Erwin, Tennessee, has completed phase three of its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) deployment, about half of its electricity customers have access to high-quality Internet access. That’s not all - phase four this spring will bring gigabit connectivity to more rural customers in two nearby mountain communities.
Reaching Out In Steps
All told, Erwin Fiber more than tripled its service area in 2016. A December grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) will allow the utility to complete the spring build out, which will serve an additional 680 homes and 30 businesses. The Temple Hill and Bumpass Cove areas located in the mountains outside of downtown Erwin will have access to Erwin Fiber's symmetrical Internet access. Due to the remote character of these neighborhoods, people here had little prospect of obtaining high-quality Internet access from other providers. The 35-mile expansion will cost approximately $400,000.
November’s expansion added 2,200 homes and businesses, while a similar effort last March included 1,300 homes and businesses. Both expansions came after the community successfully experimented with a 2015 pilot project in which the city’s electric utility connected an initial 1,200 customers. The utility needed the infrastructure for the electric system other utilities; it was the right to to invest in the equipment for high-speed connectivity and phone service
Not An Impluse
The municipality of about 6,000 people had considered the investment some 15 years prior but couldn’t afford the investment until recent years when the cost of deployment decreased. In January, Christopher interviewed Lee Brown and John Williams from Erwin Utilities who discussed the community’s project and explained how the fiber infrastructure is benefitting all the utility customers, even those who don’t subscribe to FTTH services.
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.
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 email@example.com to suggest additions.
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.
We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.
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.
Few communities in Tennessee have next-generation, high-speed connectivity, but the city of Erwin built its own network despite Tennessee’s restrictions. Now through a collaboration of federal and regional agencies, this “Little Gig City” will get assistance showing off their fiber network.
The planning assistance program, called Cool & Connected, will provide direct assistance to Erwin to develop a marketing plan for the fiber network. Cool & Connected looks to promote the Appalachian communities by using connectivity to revitalize small-town neighborhoods and encourage vibrant main streets with economic development.
Federal and Regional Collaboration
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy explained the program in The Chattanoogan:
“Cool & Connected will help create vibrant, thriving places to live, work, and play. We’re excited to be working with these local leaders and use broadband service as a creative strategy to improve the environment and public health in Appalachian communities.”
Three governmental agencies have brought together the Cool & Connected program to provide planning assistance to ten chosen communities in six states near the Appalachian Mountains. Agencies partnering on the initiative are the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Sustainable Communities, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Services, and the Appalachian Regional Commission through the Partnership for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) initiative.
The “Little Gig City” That Could
Although Erwin is a small community of 6,000 people, it...Read more
As the people of Tennessee wait for the court to determine their broadband future, state and local leaders in Nashville are hearing municipal network advocates and foes.
The bipartisan Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, anticipating state legislation aimed at removing state anti-muni laws next session, recently heard from advocates of municipal networks. Those in favor of keeping state barriers in place also took a seat at the table. The Commission includes state legislators and local community leaders. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals is now considering Tennessee's petition to vacate FCC's February decision to overturn state laws against local authority.
The Same Old Argument
The Tennessee Cable Association (TCA), representing large incumbent cable providers, repeated the same misinformation we have heard before - that municipal networks are "failures." Their lawyer pointed to debt as proof-positive that "these communities that have gone into this business have done very poorly," reported the Johnson City Press.
Chattanooga's EPB President Harold DePriest summed up the weakness of that statement when he said, “It’s the same reason you have a 30-year mortgage on your house, instead of a 5-year mortgage.” It's about long-term vision and planning.
A number of representatives from Tennessee communities served by municipal networks attended the meeting and presented the facts. Chattanooga's world-famous fiber network is often in the limelight, but smaller Tennessee towns with networks like Erwin and Jackson have benefitted from their investments and other communities, such as Cleveland, have plans to follow suit.
Erwin Making Strides
Erwin Utilities sent fiber optic engineer John Williams who called out TCA for using the word "failure" and describing it as a...Read more
After a feasibility study on the possibility of a municipal triple-play fiber network left Cleveland Utilities feeling "…not overly optimistic…" community leaders have decided to rethink their strategy. The utility board recently voted 5-0 to look deeper at a network that would offer only Internet and voice services.
Rather than study the feasibility of serving the entire community, CU wants to first try their hand at working on a limited area with a pilot project. The next step is to work with a consultant that will conduct a more focused feasibility study and develop a business plan.
In June, CU CEO Ken Webb told the board:
"I will go ahead and tell you that it's not overly optimistic about us being able to provide 'triple play' [Internet, television and phone] services," Webb said. "The capital requirements are extensive, and the startup cost could present issues."
"There is a possibility of offering services that are not full-blown services," Webb said. "There are a lot of decisions yet to be made, and a lot of review has yet to take place."
After more review of the study, Webb asked the board at the July meeting to consider further consideration for the pilot project, much like the process in Erwin, Tennessee. The Times Free Press covered the meeting where Webb reported that Erwin expected to break even on its pilot project once it took on 180 customers. After recently commencing the project, it quickly signed up 150 subscribers.
As municipalities are considering how to improve their local connectivity, subscriber interest in video services continues to drop. The associated expenses such as head end equipment and the rising cost of content lead a number of them to offer only Internet access and voice. Longmont, Colorado, and Sandy, Oregon, are two recent networks that have decided not to...Read more