Knoxville Utilities Board broadband internet service to begin in 2022


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While they won’t be able to get high-speed internet access from the Knoxville Utilities Board until 2022 at the earliest, customers are already calling to sign up for the service.

KUB passed its final regulatory hurdle last week, when Knoxville City Council voted to approve the utility’s proposal to offer symmetrical 1 gigabyte broadband internet service to its customers. This includes approximately 210,000 households in most of Knox, Grainger, Union and Sevier counties.

Broadband service will also include options for cable television and home phone access over the fiber optic network.

KUB can now start implementing the broadband network, staffing the new division and sourcing supplies.

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“Now that the approval process is complete, our focus is now on deploying the infrastructure and implementing the processes and systems that allow us to provide quality services to our customers. KUB wrote in a statement to Knox News. “We will provide regular updates to our customers as we make progress. “

There is a lot of work to be done to lay the foundation for this $ 702 million project. Here’s what’s likely to happen over the next few months.

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When will my neighborhood benefit from broadband?

A photograph of the International Telecommunication Union map of the main Internet fiber lines in the eastern half of the United States.  The main connections are marked with green dots.

While some customers can expect to access it in 2022, it will take around seven years to set up the broadband network for all KUB customers.

KUB will need to connect its local substation network to the intercontinental Internet backbone, the first physical step to achieve Internet connectivity.

This backbone is made up of ultra-fast routers connected to thick fiber optic cable lines that cross North America and the Atlantic Ocean to Europe.

Smaller local networks operate by connecting to this backbone. KUB will connect the cable to this larger network to access the Internet. Major nearby Internet hubs are located in Atlanta, Chicago, and Langley, Virginia.

Wondering when your neighborhood will benefit from broadband? There are several ways for KUB to start making the service available.

Once the connection to the backbone is established, rural broadband company Trilight Communications chief executive Eric Ogle said broadband access could expand from the KUB substation locations, so that neighborhoods close to substations could be the first to access it.

KUB, like other utilities, does not publish substation locations or transmission line routes for safety reasons. But if you know of one nearby, you’ll be close to the fiber optic network.

Katie Elspeth, vice president of EPB, the Chattanooga electricity and broadband utility, said that initially it was important to create a sensation, so the rollout could be different.

“The way we envisioned building the grid was the same as we envisioned restoring electricity in the event of a storm,” Elspeth said. “Where could we turn on the most people the fastest?” “

This meant initially focusing on building in densely populated areas in multiple locations.

Chattanooga was the first city to launch a municipal fiber broadband program in 2009. It is widely regarded as the best, fastest, and most stable Internet service in the country.

EPB announced to the public where it would lay fiber and a rough schedule for the work using an interactive street-level map on its website. But even people who missed the map could tell something was going on.

“When people see teams in their neighborhood, they know it’s coming soon,” Elspeth said.

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Plans, plans and more plans

Before a fiber is laid, the KUB will need to devote time to developing a strategic plan, which will likely involve more public meetings and stakeholder input.

The contribution of the public will be crucial to make the deployment of broadband a success. The Council authorized the KUB to create and deliver the new public service in part because of the broad community support for the idea of ​​public broadband and its potential as a vehicle for social and economic equity.

According to the Federal Communications Commission, approximately 46% of Knox County residents live in areas where 1 gigabit fiber download service is currently available.

During the pandemic, the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce estimated that 6,000 households across the county had no internet at all. This means that thousands of students did not have access to the Internet.

KUB's Bucky Bayless is installing fiber optic between two Knoxville substations as part of KUB's efforts to continue upgrading its electrical system on Monday, May 24, 2021. KUB plans to offer high-speed municipal broadband as a that fifth public service.

“Private companies have told me you’re out of luck,” local real estate agent Jennifer Morris said at the June 29 board meeting. “We pay $ 212 per month for the Internet (wireless). I recorded on my phone 0.36 (megabits per second) download. You can’t do nothing with that.”

In a survey of 400 KUB customers before the council vote, 76% of respondents supported municipal broadband.

Maintaining this public support will require communicating plans with the community.

“The first thing they need to do is…” What are your milestones? ”Said Vivan Shipe, a community organizer and strong supporter of public broadband. Shipe said to ensure a smooth deployment, these plans need to be presented to the public for review.

“We don’t just give permission to go back behind (closed) doors,” she said. “Now the doors are open so we can all see them. We are all going to walk this path.

Make people work

KUB's Eric Rhyno feeds fiber cable into a splice trailer as KUB installs fiber between two Knoxville substations as part of the utility's efforts to continue upgrading its electrical system on Monday, May 24, 2021. KUB plans to offer high-speed municipal broadband as a fifth utility.

KUB estimates that it will eventually hire 200 people for the broadband division, including technical support staff, home installers and maintenance professionals.

Ogle said Knoxville could expect KUB to start hiring, contracting and establishing broadband-related partnerships in the near future. These partnerships could involve training and contractual agreements with other fiber suppliers to evolve rapidly.

“It’s a steep learning curve,” Ogle said. “There are a lot of hires for a utility entering the broadband space. “

Trilight Communications provides fiber optic Internet service to the Jefferson City area on behalf of Appalachian Electric Cooperative. Ogle said technical and customer service positions will require a new kind of troubleshooting skills for KUB employees.

To meet demand, KUB could move some utility workers to fiber in tandem with contracted fiber lay crews.

During the early stages of organization, planning and service, Ogle said it was helpful to bring in experts to help build capacity at the local level. Newport, Tennessee, borrowed technical and customer support staff from Morristown’s Broadband Utility. Morristown had additional capacity and helped train Newport’s growing staff.

Have questions about KUB’s upcoming broadband internet service? Email Knox News reporter Vincent Gabrielle at [email protected]

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