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Powering Up With BrightRidge in Johnson City, Tennessee - Episode 542 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast
This week on the show, Christopher is joined by Stacy Evans, Chief Broadband and Technology Officer at BrightRidge, the municipal network for Johnson City, Tennessee. When last we spoke, the electric utility-powered network had just passed its first dozen homes. Three and a half years later, the municipal network has passed more than 10,000 premises. It returns more than $5 million per year to local goverment via payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT) (not to mention keeping electric prices low), and has driven both of the incumbent providers to increase speeds and lower prices. Christopher and Stacy talk about the value that's returned to the region, and how BrightRidge is only gaining steam - it's two years ahead of its build schedule, and using grants and Rescue Plan funds to reach thousands of households not accounted for in the original design, ensuring that as many people will get access to affordable, locally owned fiber as quickly as possible.
This show is 32 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed.
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Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.
BrightRidge Charges Ahead with Connecting Communities in Tennessee
<p>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. </p><p><a href="https://muninetworks.org/content/brightridge-creating-10-gig-communitie… we left off with BrightRidge in 2019</a>, 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, <a href="https://www.heraldandtribune.com/local-news/brightridge-continues-broad… and local funding</a> as well as utility investments have allowed BrightRidge to reach thousands of residents in the area. </p><p>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. </p><p>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.
BrightRidge Creating 10 Gig Connectivity in Tennessee Communities
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.
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