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Murfreesboro, TN Soon To Be Awash In Affordable Fiber Thanks To Local Cooperative, Google Fiber
Murfreesboro, Tennessee suddenly finds itself awash with looming broadband competitors thanks to the city’s booming growth. In less than a month, United Communications – owned by not-for-profit electric cooperative Middle Tennessee Electric (MTE) – and Google Fiber have unveiled major plans to expand affordable gigabit fiber within city limits.
MTE-owned United Communications says it has some big plans for the city of 157,000, starting with broadband upgrades for the utilities’ 77,000 existing electricity customers.
According to a recent announcement, the cooperative-owned ISP will spend $85 million in existing cash reserves to deploy 1,400 miles of fiber in the city, bringing affordable gigabit access to existing MTE electricity customers. As with many utility deployments, the upgrades will prove beneficial for electrical grid monitoring and maintenance.
“We’ve already completed phase one in the Boro, which includes our fiber backbone and service to more than 1,000 homes and businesses. As part of phase one, we also built fiber to the square in downtown Murfreesboro,” United President and CEO William Bradford said in a statement. “It was a privilege to put our fiber infrastructure to work by connecting our neighbors in disadvantaged communities and adding resiliency to the local emergency communications network.”
Last year, United received $53.4 million in grants from the Tennessee Emergency Broadband Fund (made possible by the The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021) to help shore up broadband access in numerous Tennessee counties, including Bedford, Franklin, Giles, Lincoln, Marshall, Maury, Moore and Williamson.
MTE is the largest electric cooperative in the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) region and the second largest co-op in the United States, serving more than 750,000 customers across 320,000 accounts covering nearly 2,200 square miles in 11 Middle Tennessee counties.
Bradford recently told Fierce Wireless that the cooperative reinvests 100 percent of its cash flow back into its network and customer services. The cooperative also says that it has already invested more than $30 million in fiber upgrades to Rutherford county, including a recently completed fiber deployment connecting 18,000 homes and businesses in nearby Smyrna.
In United’s markets the co-op provides subscribers with access to symmetrical 100 Mbps (megabits per second) for $50 a month; 500 Mbps for $70 a month; 750 Mbps for $80 a month; and 1 or two gigabit per second (Gbps) service for $100 a month.
The cooperative states that its fiber deployment in Murfreesboro should bring around 150 new jobs to the city, and that it’s working in conjunction with the Murfreesboro Housing Authority to support its plan to provide free broadband service to low-income communities.
United is currently finishing up plans to deploy fiber to 10,000 locations across five Tennessee counties, made possible by an USDA ReConnect grant. United says it won’t need to rely on any of the more than $813 million in BEAD funds the state will be allocated courtesy of the infrastructure bill or other grant programs to fund its expansion into Murfreesboro.
Google Fiber Also Eyes Murfreesboro As One Of Several New Markets
Murfreesboro has also received attention from Google Fiber, which has announced the Tennessee city as part of its latest expansion plans.
According to the Google Fiber announcement, the company’s Murfreesboro expansion involves deploying more than 1,400 miles of new fiber, and comes on the heels of similar Google Fiber announcements in both Franklin and Smyrna, Tennessee. Google Fiber already has a notable presence in nearby Nashville. Google has provided no details on the cost of the expansion.
“Our engineering team is getting to work on network design, which is the first step in our construction process, and we’ll be working closely with the City of Murfreesboro on permitting throughout the project,” Google Fiber Government & Community Affairs Manager Ryun Jackson said. “We expect to kick off construction early in 2024 and plan to serve our first customers in Murfreesboro later in the year.”
In most deployed markets, Google Fiber provides locals with access to symmetrical gigabit service for $70 a month, or 2 gigabit per second (Gbps) service for $100 a month. More recently, the company has unveiled even faster options in markets like Austin, where locals can get 5 Gbps service for $125 a month, and 8 Gbps service for $150 a month.
Unlike many incumbent telecom monopolies, Google Fiber’s service doesn’t come with usage caps and overage fees, hidden surcharges, or long-term contracts.
A Welcome About Face For Google Fiber
Google Fiber’s expansion in Tennessee comes after several years where it wasn’t clear that Google wanted to remain in the broadband disruption business. After launching to great fanfare in 2012, the tech giant’s broadband division laid off hundreds of employees, canceled many planned installations, fired several key executives, and froze most fiber expansion in 2016.
The push was part of a bid to cut costs by Google parent company Alphabet, leading to speculation that Google Fiber could potentially exit the industry after offloading its growing fiber footprint to an incumbent competitor.
The sudden pivot frustrated many municipalities who say they were caught flat-footed by the company’s reversal. It also frustrated consumers in several key markets like Kansas City, who found their longstanding installation plans canceled. In 2019, the company abandoned key markets like Louisville, after deployment challenges proved too costly.
But last year Google Fiber showed renewed signs of life, announcing new expansions in Arizona, Colorado, Nebraska, Nevada, and Idaho. Since then, Google Fiber has increased its deployment activity in Utah and now in Tennessee as it attempts to take advantage of broadband quality frustrations made worse during the pandemic home education boom.
According to Google fiber, locals interested in tracking the company’s expansion into Murfreesboro or signing up for service can do so via the company’s website.
ISPs Lured By Murfreesboro’s Explosive Growth
Broadband access in Murfreesboro is primarily dominated by a duopoly of Comcast (Xfinity) and AT&T, who don’t try very hard to compete on price, expand service to less affluent or rural markets, or provide quality customer service.
But unlike many U.S. communities, Murfreesboro will soon be awash with competitive fiber options. That’s thanks, in part, to Murfreesboro (the state capitol until supplanted by Nashville in 1826) being the third fastest growing city in the country.
From 2015 to 2020, the city saw a 31.4 percent increase in housing, a 19.38 percent jump in overall population, and a 41.95 percent jump in the income of local residents. Many Murfreesboro residents are fleeing housing affordability issues in other cities, and finding employment among the growing roster of businesses flocking to the city.
All the while, the city’s growth and popularity has drawn a number of broadband providers to the region keen on serving the growing population.
“Google Fiber's entry does not change United's plans in Murfreesboro, nor are there any plans to collaborate,” a spokesperson for United told ILSR when asked if Google’s market entry would change the cooperative’s trajectory. “I'm unable to comment on your question regarding overlap, as we have no knowledge of Google Fiber's plans.”
Last year, the Murfreesboro Housing Authority launched a new initiative providing free Internet access to city residents, funded by a grant from TVA’s Connected Communities program. But curiously the city’s modernization plan, dubbed Murfreesboro 2035, doesn’t spend much time even mentioning affordable broadband access.
Fortunately for Murfreesboro, the city’s explosive growth–combined with an historic several year stretch of state and federal broadband grants–have put the city in the enviable position of an explosion in competitive and affordable broadband options.
Header image of wishing well in downtown Murfreesboro courtesy of Flickr user Brent Moore, Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Inline MTE service area map screenshot courtesy of MTE website
Inline image of downtown Murfreesboro courtesy of Flickr user Jasperdo, Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic
Inline image of Google Fiber wall logo courtesy of Flickr user Laura Gilchrist, CC0 1.0 Universal
Inline image of Murfreesboro sign courtesy of Pix4Free.org, Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported