Tag: "tennessee"

Posted May 12, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

There is a long-term solution to the broadband affordability gap that can be found in America’s first gig city. Thanks to Chattanooga’s wildly successful municipal broadband network, EPB Fiber, and its partnership with The Enterprise Center and Hamilton County Schools, over 15,000 low-income students in 8,500 households in Hamilton County are already getting a decade of free high-speed Internet service at no cost through a program known as HCS EdConnect.

It was borne out of the community’s response to the pandemic as local leaders looked to leverage an existing community asset to allow students to participate in distance learning, enable educators to expand educational opportunities outside the classroom, and support parents in pursuing their own professional and personal goals.

It’s an example of the one of the many benefits of having a locally-controlled, publicly-owned broadband network in which the infrastructure is seen as a public good like roads or a water system. It’s an approach that sees broadband infrastructure as something that should be accessible to everyone in the community and not used as a tool to simply benefit those who can afford it.

We wanted to visually document the power that HCS EdConnect has had in transforming the lives of program participants by weaving together a compilation of video diaries that will give you a glimpse of how a visionary municipal network made this Tennessee county more resilient in the face of the pandemic and ensured no one in their community was left on the wrong side of the digital divide.

Big Telecom Band-Aid or Local Long-Term Solution?

The short video below, produced and edited by our multimedia specialist Henry Holtgeerts, stands in stark contrast to the Presidential press conference...

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Posted April 1, 2022 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

A recently announced $610,000 grant award from the Tennessee Valley Authority to a partnership in Chattanooga, Tennessee will fund a pilot project to fund a set of holistic interventions in the Orchard Knob neighborhood to create healthier, more cost-efficient, better-connected homes for 1,000 residents.

The initiative, driven by a coalition made up of the Enterprise Center, EPB Fiber, Parkridge Health System, Habitat for Humanity, Tech Goes Home, and the Orchard Knob Neighborhood Association, aims to tackling an array of social determinants of health all at once. From The Chattanoogan:

Together, the partners plan to simultaneously invest in infrastructure and test new strategies for improving social determinants of health and quality of life of residents within a historically underserved neighborhood. Ultimately, the program in Orchard Knob will serve as a model for other communities across the Tennessee Valley.

It's happening as a result of funds contributed by the TVA's Connected Communities initiative, which aims to help "communities within the Valley leverage tech- and data-driven solutions to improve residents’ lives, deliver environmental benefits and scale economic opportunities." So far, these include projects like outfitting the Cheatham County School District with a solar array and battery backup, technology upgrades at more than a dozen Knoxville Recreation Centers, and improved connectivity at public housing sites in Murfreesboro.

Neighborhood-wide Wi-Fi will be installed, resident's homes will be retrofitted with upgraded HVAC systems and energy efficiency upgrades, EPB's fast and reliable Internet service will be extended, devices and digital literacy training will be given out, and 1,0000 telehealth visits will be scheduled all in the hopes of improving outcomes there. 

Orchard Knob is a predominantly Black community with a much higher population density, lower median household income, lower home ownership rates, and older homes. The TVA grant will be matched by more than $260,000 in local...

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Posted February 18, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

Welcome to In Our View. From time to time, we use this space to explore new ideas and share our thoughts on recent events playing out across the digital landscape, as well as take the opportunity to draw attention to important but neglected broadband-related issues.

As federal funds to expand high-speed Internet access began to flow to states and local communities through the American Rescue Plan Act, and with billions more coming under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Big Telecom is beginning to mount its expected opposition campaign designed to discourage federal (and state) decision-makers from prioritizing the building of publicly-owned networks.

Predictably, a centerpiece of this anti-municipal broadband campaign is the trotting out of well-worn - and thoroughly debunked - talking points, arguing that federal funding rules should not “encourage states to favor entities like non-profits and municipalities when choosing grant winners” because of their “well-documented propensity to fail at building and maintaining complex networks over time.” That’s what USTelecom, a trade organization representing big private Internet Service Providers (including the monopolies) wrote in a memo sent last week to President Biden, the FCC, cabinet secretaries, House and Senate members, Tribal leaders, as well as state broadband offices. 

Part of the impetus, no doubt, was the flood of responses to the NTIA’s Notice and Request for Comment (including ours) documenting the need for community-driven solutions in this once-in-a-generation investment that could close the digital divide forever. That’s if we don’t just give billions in taxpayer dollars to huge monopolies in the hope that they’ll suddenly decide to build connections to the households in their territory that they’ve been ignoring for years despite getting billions of dollars already via the...

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Posted February 11, 2022 by Emma Gautier

Located in the most northeastern part of Tennessee, BrightRidge has served as Johnson City’s public power utility for nearly 80 years. About a decade ago, BrightRidge stepped into the broadband space, and has since been taking serious strides to connect Johnson City residents and surrounding communities. 

When we left off with BrightRidge in 2019, the utility was about to start into the first three phases of a fiber buildout to provide 3,847 homes and 373 businesses with broadband access. Since then, state and local funding as well as utility investments have allowed BrightRidge to reach thousands of residents in the area.  

Back in 2009 is when Johnson City, Tennessee began thinking about a possible fiber buildout. Since then, the city of 67,000 has considered a number of approaches, eventually landing on building out a hybrid (fiber and fixed wireless) network and serving as a publicly owned broadband utility to bring Internet access to residents. Known today as BrightRidge Broadband, the utility offers symmetric speeds of up to 10 Gigabits per second (for $149/month) in Johnson City and nearby communities.  

Originally slated to be complete in 2026, demand and success in rolling out the infrastructure has led the utility to speed up its deployment plans. According to a June press release, BrightRidge anticipated “collapsing its 8-year build-out plan down to seven years, with 5,449 customers with service available compared to the original FY 22 plan of 2,940.” The release also cited a plan for Phase 5 of deployment, “beginning in July 2023 [and adding] 8,248 customers – 5,300 more than originally planned for the phase.” BrightRidge is currently halfway through Phase 4 of buildout, and has a current coverage area of over 15,000 homes and businesses in Johnson City, Jonesborough and Washington County. Importantly, the network construction so far has been funded internally with the help of local, state and federal funding: electric customers will see...

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Posted February 10, 2022 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Dickson, Tennessee (pop. 15,500) was the third municipal electric system to take power from the Tennessee Valley Authority after its creation in 1933, but the utility actually predates the regional electric generation system by almost 30 years. Today, it’s entering a new phase of life, parlaying its 117-year history of bringing affordable electric service into an $80 million fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) build that will see every household in its footprint (37,000 meters) get future-proof Internet access within the next four years.

A Cooperative in Municipal Clothing

Established in 1905, the very first Dickson Electric System (DES) customers received their power from a single 150-horsepower external combustion steam engine. DES upgraded its capacity in 1923, switching to two 150-horsepower oil-burning engines. A little more than a decade later, the TVA was established and DES took service, joining the maturing regional electric system and bringing its 650 customers and 50 miles of line into what would eventually be a group of more than 150 local power utilities almost a century later.

Today, Dickson Electric territory covers almost 800 square miles across Dickson, Hickman, Cheatham, Williamson, Humphreys, Houston, and Montgomery Counties (with the bulk of its customers in the first three), across about 2,600 miles of distribution line to 37,000 locations.

Because of this and some other factors, in many ways Dickson, Tennessee’s municipal electric system looks more like an electric cooperative than typical city-centered infrastructure, General Manager Darrell Gillespie shared in an interview. Just the fourth general manager to serve in the position since DES’ founding, Gillespie said that only 22 percent of its meters are located in the city of Dickson. The rest are spread across the seven-county footprint - many in rural areas, and including in parts or all of four other cities. In fact, DES averages just 13 customers per mile across its service area.

With a long history of providing affordable, reliable, locally accountable electric service, leadership at the utility have been talking about expanding into the fiber business for years. The onset of the pandemic in the spring of 2020...

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Posted October 26, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Calloway County (pop. 39,000) in western Kentucky is known for the picturesque shorelines circling Kentucky Lake, the wildlife at Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area, and as the home of Murray State University where Ja Morant dazzled basketball fans before becoming an NBA phenom.

Now there's a different team coming to town that will delight local residents: a new partnership between Calloway County and West Kentucky and Tennessee (WK&T) Telecommunications Cooperative will soon make this rural corner of the state known as a home for high-speed Internet connectivity, as the county and WK&T recently announced they were joining forces to expand the cooperative’s existing fiber network to reach every unserved and underserved location in the county.

Calloway County and WK&T are each committing a $6.2 million matching contribution for the first phase of the expansion project, which will see the co-op’s fiber-to-the-home network in the region extended 236 miles to serve an additional 4,274 homes and businesses. 

WK&T currently serves over 15,000 subscribers in Kentucky and Tennessee with broadband, voice, video and security services, some of whom are in Calloway County. There are also a number of households in the city of Murray, the county seat, with access to fiber service through the city-owned utility Murray Electric System (MES). Yet, thousands of premises on the outskirts of the county remain unserved by Internet Service Providers. The fiber expansion project, which the Calloway County Fiscal Court unanimously voted to pursue in early August, will ensure all county residents can benefit from access to high-speed Internet service. 

To supply their respective portions of the local match, the county has indicated it will contribute a portion of its $7.5 million in American Rescue Plan funds, while WK&T has applied for a $5.54 million Economic Development Administration grant made available through the...

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Posted October 19, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

With American Rescue Plan funds flowing into state government coffers, about a third of the nation’s 50 states have announced what portion of their Rescue Plan dollars are being devoted to expanding access to high-speed Internet connectivity.

The federal legislation included $350 billion for states to spend on water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure, though everything we have seen suggests that the vast majority of that will not go to broadband. There is also another $10 billion pot of rescue plan funds, called the Capital Projects Fund, that mostly must be used to expand access to broadband.

Laboratories of Broadband-ification 

As expected, each state is taking their own approach. California is making a gigantic investment in middle-mile infrastructure and support for local Internet solutions while Maryland is making one of the biggest investments in municipal broadband of any other state in the nation. And although Colorado does not prioritize community-driven initiatives, state lawmakers there have earmarked $20 million for Colorado’s two federally-recognized Indian tribes to deploy broadband infrastructure with another $15 million devoted to boosting telehealth services in the state.     

Undoubtedly, individual states’ funding priorities vary. Some states may be relying on previously allocated federal investments to boost broadband initiatives and/or have been persuaded the private sector alone will suffice in solving its connectivity challenges. And in some states, such as Illinois, Minnesota, and Maine, lawmakers have prioritized using state funds to support broadband expansion efforts while other states may be waiting on the infrastructure bill now making its way through Congress before making major broadband funding decisions.

As of this writing, 17 states have earmarked a portion of their Rescue Plan money (totaling about $7.6 billion) to address the digital divide within their borders. Those states are Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, Missouri, Virginia, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.

A handful of those states are making major investments to boost broadband with an emphasis on community-driven solutions where local governments, public entities, and non-profit organizations can...

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Posted July 20, 2021 by Maren Machles

Since the passing of the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act (TBAA) in 2017, the state has poured more than $100 million into connecting its most rural communities, and more than 20 electric cooperatives throughout the state have spent the last four years making their way into the broadband business. 

Back in 2016 and 2017, Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative (SVEC), along with many other electric cooperatives, advocated for the right to build fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) networks out to their memberships in the most rural parts of the state. When TBAA passed through the state legislature, removing major barriers for cooperatives to build out their own networks, SVEC got to work.

Today, 23 electric cooperatives in Tennessee have launched their own broadband projects, including SVEConnect, a broadband subsidiary of SVEC offering FTTH that has connected more than 4,400 members across Marion County. 

From Electrification to Connectivity

SVEC was formed in 1939 to address the broad gaps in access to electricity throughout the rural areas surrounding Chattanooga, Tennessee in Bledsoe, Grundy, Marion and Sequatchie counties. When the cooperative was first established, the nonprofit’s leaders would frequent community events at churches and neighborhood gatherings, keeping their fingers on the pulse of community needs. The cooperative began offering an essential service: electricity.

More than 80 years later, a new disparity in service was emerging: members in SVEC’s service area were not receiving the same high-speed Internet options that were offered in urban areas around the state. 

A problem remained, however. In Tennessee, broadband wasn’t listed in the state statute definition of the “community utility services” cooperatives were allowed to...

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Posted July 8, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

For the past several years the Knoxville Utilities Board (KUB) has been considering whether to add high-speed Internet service to its portfolio of offerings after nearly a decade of the region’s residents and businesses being plagued with the poor connectivity served up by incumbent providers.

Now, with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and the state Comptroller’s office having earlier this spring approved the Knoxville Utilities Board (KUB) business plan [pdf] to build a fiber network, the city-owned utility recently cleared the final hurdle needed to move forward with the massive project.

Unanimous Approval from Knoxville City Council

Two weeks ago, the Knoxville City Council unanimously approved the KUB Board of Commissioners proposal to build a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network in one of the Volunteer State’s largest metro areas. Network construction is expected to cost $702 million and take seven to 10 years to build out, reaching 210,000 households across KUB’s 688-square-mile service area spanning Knox, Grainger, Union, and Sevier counties.

Once the network is complete, it will not only be the largest community-owned network in Tennessee – surpassing the size of EPB Fiber in Chattanooga, which served as inspiration for KUB officials – it will also be the largest municipal network in the nation.

“Now that the approval process is complete, our focus has shifted to deploying the infrastructure and implementing the processes and systems that allow us to deliver quality services to our customers. We will be providing regular updates to our customers as we make progress,” KUB officials wrote in a prepared statement to Knox News.

...

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Posted June 30, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

After three years in a row with similar results, PCMag’s “Fastest ISPs in America” for 2021 analysis shows a clear trend: community owned and/or operated broadband infrastructure supports networks which, today, handily beat the huge monopoly Internet Service Providers (ISPs) - cable and telephone alike – for sheer speed.

The latest list proves it. Of the ten-fastest ISPs in the country, all of them feature operators that either are cities themselves or use city-owned fiber or conduit to deliver service across whole or parts of their footprint. 

City-run networks making the list again this year include Longmont, Colorado (third); Chattanooga, Tennessee (sixth); and Cedar Falls, Iowa (seventh). Cedar Falls topped the list last year, but all three networks are regulars over the last three analyses done by the outlet. Broken down regionally, they are also joined by other municipal networks around the country, including FairlawnGig in Ohio and LUS Fiber in Louisiana.

But equally telling is that the private ISPs which make up the remainder of the list lean heavily on publicly built and/or operated broadband infrastructure in parts of their service territory. Overall winner Empire Access has used fiber routes from an open access middle mile network via Empire Axcess in New York state. Likewise, second-place Google Fiber and fourth-place Ting lease city-owned fiber to operate in places like Huntsville, Alabama and Westminster, Maryland, respectively. Fifth-place Hotwire uses public fiber in Salisbury, North Carolina. Eighth-place ALLO Communications is a public-private partnership veteran. Ninth-place Monkeybrains uses city-owned dark fiber in San Francisco, California. Finally, tenth-place Sonic...

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