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Johnson City Power Board (JCPB) in Tennessee began considering expanded uses for its fiber-optic infrastructure way back in 2009. After several stops and starts, the community is on track again, having just commissioned a Fiber and Wireless to the Premise (FTTP) Feasibility Study.
A Long Road
In 2009, when the municipal utility was installing fiber to substations they reviewed the idea of offering broadband to businesses and residents. Ultimately, they chose to focus on smart-grid development and save possible telecommunications offerings for some time in the future.
This isn’t the first time the community of 63,000 has commissioned a feasibility study. In 2011, community leaders took the results from a study and decided a public-private partnership was the best route. The community is located between Bristol, Virginia, and Chattanooga, Tennessee - both communities with municipal fiber networks that have seen upticks in economic development. Competing for new businesses and retaining the ones they already have could not have been easy while sandwiched between the two communities with high-quality connectivity.
In 2012, Johnson City announced that it would be working with the BVU Authority in Bristol as a partner. Now that the BVU system will likely be sold to a private provider, Johnson City is back to square one, but with considerable experience in its pocket.
Asking For Input
As part if the study, JCPB has launched surveys on their website for residents and businesses; they’re also making the surveys available through the mail. JCPB is asking the community to complete the surveys before the end of June.
From the JCPB survey page:
When state legislators in Tennessee recently passed the Broadband Accessibility Act of 2017, tech writers quoted our Christopher Mitchell, who pointed out that the proposal has some serious pitfalls.
Christopher's statement appeared in several articles:
"Tennessee taxpayers may subsidize AT&T to build DSL service to Chattanooga's [rural] neighbors rather than letting the Gig City [Chattanooga] expand its fiber at no cost to taxpayers. Tennessee will literally be paying AT&T to provide a service 1,000 times slower than what Chattanooga could provide without subsidies."
Motherboard noted that the Tennessee legislature had the opportunity to pass a bill, sponsored by Senator Janice Bowling, to grant municipal electric utilities the ability to expand and serve nearby communities. Nope. Legislators in Tennessee would rather pander to the incumbent providers that come through year after year with generous campaign contributions:
To be clear: EPB wanted to build out its gigabit fiber network to many of these same communities using money it has on hand or private loans at no cost to taxpayers. It would then charge individual residents for Internet service. Instead, Tennessee taxpayers will give $45 million in tax breaks and grants to giant companies just to get basic infrastructure built. They will then get the opportunity to pay these companies more money for worse Internet than they would have gotten under EPB's proposal.
The Motherboard reporter quoted Bowling from a prior article (because, like the movie "Groundhog Day," she keeps finding herself in the same situation year after year):
"What we have right now is not the free market, it's regulations protecting giant corporations, which is the exact definition of crony capitalism," she said.
TechDirt Gets Personal
Tennessee Legislature Passes Broadband Accessibility Act, Delivers Hollow "Victory"
While Governor Haslam's Signature Legislation Sounds Great, AT&T Will Be Laughing all the Way to the Bank
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - Late yesterday, the Tennessee Legislature officially sent Governor Bill Haslam's signature legislation, the Broadband Accessibility Act of 2017, to his desk. Unfortunately, this bill is more about making taxpayer dollars accessible to AT&T than ensuring rural regions get modern Internet access.
"What we have on one side is a taxpayer-funded subsidy program, and on the other we have a subscriber-based model," says Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. "The tragic thing is, AT&T is a taxpayer subsidized monopoly in rural Tennessee that only has to provide a service far slower than the definition of broadband. Locally-rooted networks like Chattanooga's EPB not only offer nation-leading services but have tremendous community support."
With this bill's passage, the Tennessee General Assembly will likely not pass any other broadband legislation during this session. The Broadband Accessibility Act won't improve Tennessee's rating as 29th in Internet connectivity, but it will do a great job of lining AT&T's pockets. As we've tracked throughout the session, there are a number of bills worth supporting that would actually increase connectivity and allow municipalities to take part in their own broadband future.
While at the annual Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities Broadband Conference, I forced Ken Demlow to be our guest on Community Broadband Bits Podcast 247. Ken is the Sales Director for Newcom Technologies, where he has worked with many different fiber-optic deployments on the ground and is a fun guy to talk to more generally.
Our discussion focuses on two main topics - the benefits of using fiber-optic connections to smart-grid applications rather than relying on wireless and the challenges that Google faced in getting on the poles in Nashville to build its fiber-optic network (which seems to be stalled).
Ken had a front-row seat to the work in Nashville to get Google Fiber on poles but our conversation focuses on what is publicly known. We aren't breaking any insider secrets, but this is a very good discussion about the tremendous challenges of dealing with attachments on over 100,000 poles when contemplating a citywide metro fiber build. For people who haven't done it, this will explain why encouraging private sector competition at the physical network level is very difficult. And we keep it interesting - from possibly the worst idea for a sci-fi antagonist ever and how make-ready could fit into Greek myths.
We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.
Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.
Thanks to Break the Bans for the music. The song is Escape and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.
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.
A new article from the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society takes a look at the pay in and pay off from Chattanooga’s investment into its fiber-optic network. The article, Smart Grid Paybacks: The Chattanooga Example, was written by Davd A. Talbot and Maria Paz-Canales.
From the Abstract:
After building a fiber optic network throughout its service territory, the city-owned electric utility in Chattanooga, Tennessee, became the first U.S. company to offer Internet access speeds of 1 gigabit per second to customers. The fiber also serves as the backbone for a sophisticated smart grid.
Data show that the savings produced by the smart grid, plus revenue from access fees paid by the utility’s Internet access business, more than cover the capital and operating costs of the smart grid. What’s more, we estimate this would still be true even if the utility hadn’t received a $111.6 million federal stimulus grant, and instead borrowed the extra amount. We reach this conclusion after counting direct savings in the utility’s operating costs (such as labor, truck maintenance, and fuel), avoided purchases of expensive wholesale power at peak times, and avoided power losses.
The region is also experiencing second-order benefits including economic development and savings to local businesses thanks to fewer and shorter power outages. The data on the following two pages were provided by the utility (known as the Electric Power Board of Chattanooga, or EPB), and include data on second-order benefits originally published by Bento Lobo at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
The authors detail direct and indirect paybacks to the community from the smart grid investment. The grand total? $67.1 million.
Check out the full article here.
Morristown Utilities Commission (MUC) and Newport Utilities (NU) in Tennessee have taken the first monumental step in partnering to bring high-quality connectivity to NU customers. Both entities passed resolutions for an interlocal government agreement that will bring MUC’s FiberNET to Newport.
“This is hopefully going to be a win-win for both Newport and MUC, that we would provide services for them to put a three-way package into at least part of their service area,” MUC Chairman George McGuffin said. ‘‘This is essentially the first step, as far as agreements.”
The plan will allow MUC to expand its “light services,” which includes FiberNET, to NU’s service area in several phases. The first phase will allow more than 8,000 potential subscribers, or 47 percent of Cocke County households, to obtain FiberNET services. Phase One is scheduled to be completed in 2017; the partners also expect to begin Phase Two construction during the second quarter.
Morristown and its gigabit network FiberNET have been on our radar for a long time. We’ve written about how this community, a relatively early adopter of the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, has saved the community in several ways. By lowering electric costs with a smart meter program and by generally lower Internet access costs for government, businesses, and residents, FiberNET is saving Morristown in the tens of millions. The network is also attracting new jobs and contributing to city coffers through payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT).
Listen to General Manager and CEO Jody Wigington talk to Christopher about Morristown’s decision to invest in Internet infrastructure. He visited us for episode 35 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast in 2013.
Friends For Light
Tennessee State Senator Janice Bowling, a Republican from Tullahoma, has once again introduced legislation that would help bring high-quality connectivity to rural residents and businesses. The bill is not complicated and would allow municipal electric utilities that offer broadband connectivity to expand beyond their electric service area. In a video from 2015 Senator Bowling takes a few minutes to explain her proposal - to eliminate the restriction and allow places like Tullahoma, Chattanooga, and Clarksville to serve neighboring communities.
This year, the bill that eliminates the restriction is SB 1058 and its House companion is HB 0970 from Representative Dan Howell. For now, her bill is in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee waiting to be heard. Sen. Bolling has also introduced similar bill that allows municipal electric utilities to offer telecommunications service with no geographical limitations.
Senator Bolling gets it. She understands that the people of her district and the rest of rural Tennessee need high-quality connectivity to keep pace with areas that already have such access. We’d like to see more legislators like her who put the needs of their constituents before the interests of the big cable and telephone companies.
In the video Senator Bolling describes why the bill, which she has introduced several times, has not passed. She explains what the bill does legally and practically, and she gives a frank assessment of what the situation is now in many rural areas of her state. Even though the video is from 2015, her comments are still relevant.
The video is short and to the point - only 4:20 - check it out and share.
This is the transcript for episode 242 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Our Christopher Mitchell invites Professor Susan Crawford to reflect on her recent travels through North Carolina and Tennessee. Both states have restricted communities from building new municipal networks. Listen to this episode here.
Susan Crawford: It's much more about a very bipartisan, quite progressive group of people thinking about how to make life better in their communities, and that's terrific. That's truly American.
Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 242 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. We're pleased to have Susan Crawford back on the show this week. She's a Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, but she's also served as Special Assistant to President Obama for science, technology and innovation policy. Susan's CV is too long for us to go through point by point. She's authored several publications, including The Responsive City: Engaging Communities Through Data-Smart Governance, and The Telecom Industry and Monopoly power in the New Gilded Age. She's been on the show before to talk with Christopher about access to high-quality connectivity, and it's always a pleasure to have her back. As it turns out, Susan has been on a walkabout of sorts, visiting local communities as she works on her current book, and in this discussion she shares her impressions with Christopher. She's got some ideas on how she feels are the most effective ways to bring better connectivity to the most people, especially in rural areas, and she and Christopher hash through her findings.
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.
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: