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
In July 2018, BrightRidge shared their plan to deploy high-quality Internet access throughout their service areas at a public meeting. Service will be offered through a combination of Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) and fixed wireless to the more rural areas. Throughout the four-phase plan, BrightRidge will deploy both fiber and wireless systems. Cost of the plan will reach approximately $64 million and will offer connectivity to approximately 61,000 electric customers, or 75 percent of those in the service area, by 2026.
The first phase, happening this year, will bring BrightRidge service to approximately 8,500 premises. The first to be served will be downtown Johnson City, nine industrial parks, and also in downtown Jonesborough, which is located about eight miles from Johnson City. Approximately 4,000 of those will be households in Washington County. At a community meeting last July about the infrastructure plan, BrightRidge CEO Jeff Dykes told attendees:
“In those more dense areas and around the industrial parks where we have access to our substations, we will roll out the fiber. But we will also be rolling out at the same time the wireless into those rural communities so we can get you high speed access.”
Jonesborough is part of the project due to existing conduit. BrightRidge was able to run their fiber down main street, which had been previously installed for an unrelated underground wiring project.
Dykes told the Johnson City Press in March that phases 1 – 3 will connect 3,847 homes and 373 businesses. In a recent WJHL report, Main Street Cafe and Catering’s Zac Jenkins expressed his excitement at being one of the first businesses in Jonesborough to subscribe to the Fiber Optic Elite 10 gig package:
“This was a great opportunity because there’s a couple [of] buildings right here that don’t have the infrastructure for cable. So it’s been awesome for them to be able to help us put the infrastructure in.”
Approximately 50 businesses and 105 households in Jonesborough will have access this first year of operation. Next, downtown Johnson City businesses and residences will be connected.
Subscribers in more densely populated areas will have access to fiber connections and will have the option to sign up for capacity as high as symmetrical 10 Gigabit per second (Gbps) service. Rates for residential fiber service include:
- Fiber Optic – Advantage (200 Mbps) : $49.99 per month
- Fiber Optic – Performance (1 Gbps) : $79.99 per month
- Fiber Optic – Elite (10 Gbps) : $299.99 per month
BrightRidge is also offering VoIP for $18.99 per month and a $14.99 per month managed Wi-Fi and streaming video support package. There’s no fee for installation, no contracts, and subscribers can supply their own Wi-Fi routers or lease them from BrightRidge.
Fixed wireless subscribers in rural areas don’t have the same options as those in the denser areas where FTTH will be available, but many will see a noticeable improvement over CenturyLink DSL or Satellite Internet access, which are two of the main ISPs in the rural areas in the region. There will also be no data caps and subscribers will have local support to help with any issues that may arise.
- Fixed Wireless Internet – Essential (up to 25 Mbps download /3 Mbps upload) : $29.99 per month
- Fixed Wireless Internet – Advantage (up to 50 Mbps/5 Mbps Bandwidth) : $64.99 per month
- Fixed Wireless Internet – Performance (up to 75 Mbps/10 Mbps Bandwidth) : $89.99 per month
Looking Forward to Better Service
At the July 2018 public meeting to introduce locals to the plan, people expressed enthusiasm. David Bench, who receives electric service from BrightRidge said, ”I can’t say enough good things about it, and wish it had happened 10 years ago.”
Local coverage from WJHL:
Photo credit Mrgriffter [CC BY-SA 4.0]