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BrightRidge at second stage of broadband approval

Robert Houk • Apr 25, 2018 at 12:00 AM

BrightRidge’s plan for getting into the broadband business will make its way to the Tennessee comptroller’s office this week. The public utility’s board of directors voted Tuesday to send its business plan to the state for its review and approval.

That plan would allow BrightRidge to offer cable services, two-way video transmissions, video programming and internet services to many of its 78,000 power customers.

BrightRidge CEO Jeff Dykes said the state review is simply a “continuation” of a three-step process that began with the Tennessee Valley Authority giving its blessing to the broadband plan. He said TVA reviewed BrightRidge’s business model and has deemed it to be a “good and reasonable plan.”

Now, Dykes said the state is required to take up to 60 days to review the same business plan. Once that business plan is approved by the state, the Johnson City Commission must sign off on BrightRidge’s broadband ambitions before it can begin connections.

BrightRidge’s board voted in January to adopt a business plan to bring public broadband to much of its service area. The preliminary plan for the rollout of the broadband service is divided into eight phases that would give the utility the flexibility to stop at any phase it deems unprofitable and still maintain a viable overall business plan.

Each of phases is expected to take a year to complete, with parts of Johnson City and Washington County among the first to be connected.

In other board business Tuesday, BrightRidge has been awarded a top energy-saver award from TVA. BrightRidge, which is the 10th-largest among the 154 public utilities powered by TVA, has been recognized as an EnergyRight Solutions top-10 performer in total program savings and a top performer in the EnergyRight Solutions for industry program.

BrightRidge cut 6 million kilowatt hours overall, with 2.16 million kilowatt hours coming from industrial customers in the 2017 fiscal year. Chris Quillen, customer service manager for TVA, said BrightRidge’s energy savings have allowed the federal utility to put off construction of two new power plants.

Before the meeting, Dykes told the Press programs like EnergyRight Solutions could be placed in jeopardy if TVA’s energy transmission assets are sold to a private business, as President Donald Trump has proposed.

Every member of Tennessee’s congressional delegation, including Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, as well as U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, has signed a letter to Trump asking his administration drop the idea.

Dykes said selling TVA’s transmission assets would put another party between local public utilities and their customers.

“That will put additional costs on us and our customers,” he said. “It would have a large impact on the community we serve.”

He said many economic development programs now offered by TVA will “likely go away.”

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