With the legislature in session, TTA members are working hard to make sure lawmakers hear about the need for broadband in rural Tennessee. Bledsoe Telephone Cooperative recently hosted a community meeting to discuss its expansion of broadband services. The cooperative was pleased to have State Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, in attendance.
Telco leaders from across Tennessee and Kentucky converged on Bowling Green Oct. 25-27 for the 22nd annual KTA-TTA Fall Conference and Supplier Showcase.
More than 275 people attended the conference, including members and associate members.
Attendees were treated to a keynote address from Jessica Golden of FRS, six informational breakout sessions on the industry’s hottest topics, and, of course, plenty of opportunities to network with fellow telco employees and vendors.
The session covered a variety of topics including network security, FTTH UPS placement, how to make the most from your high speed connection, managing your workflow and a discussion on making a profit from video services. The vendor showcase also featured 82 tabletop displays.
Thank you to all of the TTA members who attended and helped sponsor another successful conference, and thank you to our counterparts in Kentucky for continuing to be excellent partners.
Tennessee legislators will return to the state house in Nashville on Jan. 10 in what is expected to be an eventful session for telecom-related legislation.
While no bills relevant to the industry had been pre-filed at the time of publication, the results from a recent TACIR report on broadband and last summer’s TDEC report are likely to spur action among legislators. Gov. Bill Haslam has already created a “Broadband Task Force” headed by his Senior Advisor for Policy and Strategy Stephen Smith.
Smith, who joined the governor’s cabinet in August, had been the deputy commissioner for policy and external affairs at the Tennessee Department of Education. Smith, 41, lives in Williamson County.
It is expected that the task force and the governor will heavily influence the drafting of a bill intending to increase broadband access in rural areas based the TACIR and TDEC reports. Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, who is also the chairman of TACIR, will likely introduce the bill in mid-January, and that bill will be at the center of any broadband-related discussion and legislation this year.
TACIR Broadband Report
For its part, a near-final draft of the TACIR report obtained by TTA seems to be favorable to many of TTA’s positions.
“It’s got a lot of good points in it,” says TTA Executive Director Levoy Knowles. “Some of the points we don’t really agree with, but overall, this is a report that gives a fair view of broadband in Tennessee. It’s something we can work with.”
For instance, the draft does not recommend that the gaps in Tennessee’s broadband coverage be filled by municipalities, and it goes on to point out many of the problems with municipal broadband that TTA has been pointing out for years.
“Municipalities that build broadband infrastructure outside of their electric service areas and taxing jurisdictions put electric ratepayers and municipal taxpayers at risk in the event that they are unable to earn enough revenue from subscribers to make debt payments on bonds issued to expand their systems,” the draft states.
It goes on to point out that of the two municipal providers allowed to expand broadband outside of their territories, Morristown Utilities has chosen not to and Covington started expansion but has since sold its network.
The report does discuss electric cooperatives building broadband networks, which is currently not allowed by state law. Citing the fact that electric cooperatives have larger service areas and could reach more of the state than telephone cooperatives, the report states that legislators could give electric cooperatives the authority to provide retail broadband service. It goes on to state that “this would require them to build their own central office facilities, which would likely be cost prohibitive for many cooperatives.”
Encouragingly for TTA members, the TACIR report concludes that “a better option” would be for the legislature to allow electric cooperatives to partner with existing providers to provide broadband service in the electric cooperatives’ service areas. This would open some significant opportunities for many TTA members, and TTA is hopeful that the task force and legislature will consider making such partnerships possible.
“TTA members are already the broadband experts,” Knowles says. “The electric cooperatives could be great partners in building and maintaining a network, but they don’t have any experience going inside a customer’s house or managing a data network. The type of legislation recommended in that part of the report could lead to some very strong partnerships that ultimately serve the interests of rural Tennessee.”
The TACIR report also briefly addresses pole attachment rates but concludes that legislators’ hands are tied by TVA. The report states, “Pole attachment fees may also affect the ability of providers to expand service in some areas,” and says TVA’s new rates doubled the current median fee charged within the state. The report found that TVA’s rates “can be several orders of magnitude” greater than FCC guidelines.
Unfortunately, the report agrees with the legislature that TVA’s rates supersede any possible state laws.
Among its 147 pages, the TACIR Broadband Report draft concludes:
- Satellite internet and mobile wireless are not comparable substitutes for wireline and fixed wireless broadband.
- Access to broadband is improving in Tennessee, but coverage is still limited in rural areas.
- Less than half of Tennesseans with access to broadband subscribe to the service, though adoption rates continue to increase.
- The Department of Education and the Tennessee State Library and Archives should continue to work with schools and libraries to help them maximize the state’s use of E-Rate funding to ensure that all schools and libraries have broadband.
- The state, through the coordinated efforts of its existing agencies … should encourage and assist local governments in establishing targeted broadband adoption programs that combine training and financial assistance.
- Tennessee could use the broadband deployment fund to provide competitive grants to unserved or underserved areas not already being targeted by Connect America Fund grants.
- Tennessee could offer credits against franchise and excise taxes for broadband infrastructure investments and target improvements to unserved and underserved areas by giving larger credits for investments in those unserved and underserved areas.
- To assist communities that want to streamline local regulations, Tennessee could, like Indiana and Wisconsin, designate communities that adopt a checklist of permitting and zoning procedures as “broadband-ready communities” to signal providers that they have removed regulatory barriers to broadband investment.
- Capacity of 10 megabits per second download and 1 megabit per second upload is the bare minimum for broadband.
- Communities need at least 25 megabits per second download and 3 megabits per second upload to take full advantage of broadband.
- Too many Tennesseans either have not adopted broadband or don’t have access to it.
Number of Employees:
Number of Access Lines:
- Beech Grove
- Bon DeCroft
- McMinnville Rural
- Old Zion
- Rock Island
- Sparta Rural
- Tracy City
It’s been a busy year at Ben Lomand Connect, with a familiar face taking the reins and guiding the cooperative in its efforts to bring fiber to middle Tennessee.
Lisa Cope, a 22-year veteran with Ben Lomand Connect, was named general manager and chief executive officer after serving as interim CEO for several months.
Under Cope’s leadership, Ben Lomand Connect celebrated two accomplishments in October that make the cooperative one of only about 90 in the country to be certified a Gig-Capable Provider by NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association.
The cooperative also received the Smart Rural Community distinction for its service area, which includes all of Grundy, Warren and White counties and portions of Coffee, DeKalb, Marion, Bedford, Franklin, Van Buren and Rutherford counties.
The Smart Rural Community designation from NTCA recognizes the work that has been done in the community to put the updated network to use.
Cope served as controller at Ben Lomand and wasn’t looking to change her career path, but she accepted the role of interim CEO to provide continuity until a permanent CEO was found.
For Cope, though, it didn’t matter what the job title was.
“I have always been passionate about Ben Lomand, our employees, the work we do and, most importantly, the people we serve,” she says.
Cope has lived in Van Buren County most of her life, near Falls Creek Falls State Park. As Cope filled in as interim CEO, she realized she could have an impact on helping shape the future of the cooperative and the community it serves.
Cope says Ben Lomand Connect has always worked to deliver the technology needed to keep members and communities connected, but the efforts to become a gig-capable provider has been an important step.
She says they see almost daily what customers are doing with broadband to make their operations run more smoothly and compete in a bigger market.
“While many large cities struggle to bring such technology to their citizens, your cooperative can connect a growing number of its members with speeds up to 100 times faster than those available in many U.S. households,” Cope says.
She says Ben Lomand Connect’s work is more important now than ever because broadband has become as crucial to the region’s success as reliable electricity, clean water and a dependable transportation system.
“For us to compete, grow jobs and improve education and health care, a high-speed connection to the internet is no longer optional,” Cope says.
Ben Lomand, like many cooperatives across rural America, serves a region of small communities. The cooperative covers about 3,200 square miles.
From an economic and engineering standpoint, it is a challenge to serve such a
wide area, especially one with a relatively small number of customers per mile, but the cooperative is delivering some of the most advanced technology available.
Cope says she expects more strategic planning to grow and upgrade the broadband network in the most efficient responsible manner.
It’s also important to provide as many training opportunities for employees so they stay up to date as the technology continues to change.
Town hall meetings have been planned throughout the service territory to hear from members.
“We want to focus our cooperative on positive interactions with customers, being a quality and trusted business partner in the community, serving as a good steward of our members’ resources, and engaging our team to give the members the best service experience possible,” she says. “Our members can expect a cooperative that listens and is responsive to their needs.”
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has been a polarizing person as the head of our industry’s highest regulatory body. When Wheeler announced this month that he would be resigning, the coverage reflected the mixed legacy he will leave behind.
“Serving as F.C.C. Chairman during this period of historic technological change has been the greatest honor of my professional life. I am deeply grateful to the President for giving me this opportunity. I am especially thankful to the talented Commission staff for their service and sacrifice during my tenure. Their achievements have contributed to a thriving communications sector, where robust investment and world-leading innovation continue to drive our economy and meaningful improvements in the lives of the American people. It has been a privilege to work with my fellow Commissioners to help protect consumers, strengthen public safety and cybersecurity, and ensure fast, fair and open networks for all Americans.”
Executive Officer Shirley Bloomfield:
“NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association wishes Chairman Tom Wheeler well in his future endeavors. He repeatedly demonstrated great resolve in taking action on some very difficult issues, and we appreciate the agency’s willingness under his leadership to engage with interested and affected stakeholders throughout these debates.”
Drew Petersen, vice president of External Affairs and Communications for TDS Telecommunications Corp.:
“FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler represented the interests of consumers and communities during his tenure on the commission. Chairman Wheeler recognized the importance of investing in broadband services in rural areas. He also understood the economic and civic benefits those investments have on our country. Wheeler was pragmatic in his approach and his support for lifting up rural America with improved broadband services.
“The proposed Alternative Connect America Cost Model (A-CAM) for rural rate-of-return carriers is a great illustration of Wheeler’s leadership on matters of rural broadband expansion. This program, once approved, will result in hundreds of thousands of rural citizens receiving upgraded, broadband connections.
“Chairman Wheeler should be commended for dedicating the time and effort to solve this vexing problem — the lack of sufficient and reliable access to broadband. TDS hopes Chairman Wheeler’s last FCC action will be approving and ordering a revised A-CAM model to benefit rural Americans. This will be an important legacy for Chairman Wheeler and his tenure at the FCC.”