Downtown Jonesborough is part of the Phase 1 broadband plan.

By ALLEN RAU

Staff Writer

arau@heraldandtribune.com

Local power company BrightRidge recently announced it will soon offer a local alternative product for internet, cable television and phone service.

A press release from the company on July 18 announced, “BrightRidge directors approved moving forward with an eight-year, $64 million investment to bring competition to the regional broadband, cable television and phone service marketplace.

“By unanimous vote, the board, after three years of study, agreed to move forward with a phased plan that will offer up to 10 gigabyte (Gb) symmetrical service to commercial and residential customers.”

According to the release, the final hurdle BrightRidge must jump is approval from the Johnson City Commission to enter the broadband and cable TV business. On the assumption the commission approves the request, these services should begin in the fourth quarter of 2018.

The plan involves a phased installation over an eight-year period. BrightRidge CEO Jeff Dykes said, “We will have to ask for patience as we will not be positioned to serve everyone in year one. By moving forward with a conservative approach, the broadband division builds cash necessary to help construct the build-out.

“A conservative approach also allows us to adapt to any technological advancements in the marketplace.”

The map shows the full range of the broadband outside Jonesborough.

The company’s proposal will be a hybrid service, utilizing fiber optic lines and fixed wireless. The fiber option will offer high speeds of 10 Gb to the more densely populated areas, while the wireless network will offer up to 75 megabytes per second asymmetrical  service to rural areas.

BrightRidge held a public hearing on Thursday, July 26, to give local residents a chance to ask questions and get information about the new service.

As the meeting opened, Dykes told the locals in attendance, “(BrightRidge board members) have spent a lot of hours over the last several years doing pilot programs, we have gone out and done interviews with residential customers, industrial customers, a lot of our commercial customers to see what they want. And this is a business they feel we should be getting into. Everything we’ve seen and studied has been resoundingly, ‘Yes, we would like to see this.’”

Dykes added that the school system in Washington County, as well as residents, were particularly interested in gaining access to high-speed internet. He believes the hybrid system would provide that internet access to hard-to-reach areas in the county using wireless, while their current network would make fiber installation in more populated areas feasible.

“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.”

BrightRidge Chief Broadband Officer Stacy Evans explained the phased rollout as well as which areas would have access to the new service in the future.

Phase 1 in 2019 would provide fiber to the downtown Johnson City area, nine industrial parks and downtown Jonesborough. Wireless service would be offered in southern Washington County. In total, Phase 1 would give close to 8,500 customers the opportunity to the company’s internet.

Phase 2 in 2020 would provide fiber and wireless service to the Piney Flats and North Johnson City, as well as expanded wireless service in Southern Washington County.

Phases 1 and 2 would cover over 19,800 customers.

Phase 3 in 2021 would see wireless service in Telford and Piney Flats and more wireless expansion in southern Washington County, along with fiber access to the Gray area.

The first three phases would include over 32,000 potential customers.

The presentation detailed only the first three phase,  but Evans said after Phase 8 in 2026, 61,000 potential customers would have access to BrightRidge broadband services. 

Evans explained some of the technology involved in building the new network and that if new technologies are introduced, the network may be upgraded without having to redesign or rebuild the network.

“We’re building this in a way that I would call ‘future proof’.”

He also spoke to the crowd about some of the plans and options they would offer customers.

Fiber options would include 100 megabytes per second (Mbps), 1,000 Mbps and 10,000 Mbps symmetrical, which offers those speeds during downloads as well as when uploading files. 1,000 Mbps is the equivalent of 1 Gb while 10,000 Mbps is 10 Gb.

Evans explained, “You can use both upstream and downstream. You have to have bi-directional communications, it’s always talking back and forth.”

Wireless options would be 25 Mbps/3 Mbps, 50 Mbps/5 Mbps and 75 Mbps/10 Mbps.

As an example, the first option would provide 25 Mbps download speed and 3 Mbps upload speed.

For commercial wireless the options would remain the same but commercial fiber options would include two tiers, one for small business and one for larger businesses.

Dedicated access as well as private Ethernet service would be offered in the event that a business needed to connect different sites or locations to each other.

Voice or phone options would be Voice over IP, which is phone service through an IP address.

Video or TV options include an Over the Top, which would allow you to choose your own streaming provider.

While BrightRidge released some of the products and services they would soon offer, pricing has not yet been finalized.

“We can confirm that our pricing will be competitive, but the actual rates are not ready for release at this time.”

After Evans spoke to the crowd, attendees were invited to speak with BrightRidge employees and examine the service location maps to find out when service would be available for each resident.

When asked about the fiber and wireless networks coming to Jonesborough, BrightRidge Director of Public and Governmental Affairs Tim Whaley said, “We were able to do this project because there’s an underground wiring project that was already in place. We had conduit available and space available to go ahead and run this product.

“That underground wiring project left capacity to get into broadband pretty easily and run fiber right down Main Street.”

Whaley said that the wireless internet that rural areas will have available would be as fast as what is currently in the market.

Evans added that BrightRidge would install all equipment for the customer.  An antenna, “most of which range in about an eight inch diameter,” would be required.

Also required for wireless would be a device to receive the signal and transfer it to a router that would then distribute the signal to devices in the house.

While BrightRidge currently provides power to the area and will soon provide internet, phone and cable services, Whaley pointed out that “the two billings are unrelated. If you don’t pay your cable bill, it will not impact your electric service in any way.”