Bristol utility chosen as third-party provider; initial agreement made

Becky Campbell • May 25, 2012 at 10:31 PM

The Johnson City Power Board announced Friday its choice for the third-party provider for commercial Internet and telephone services delivered over the utility’s fiber optic network.

BVU Authority — Bristol Virginia Utility Authority — apparently seems to be the best fit for the power board’s plan to expand its services.

There is an initial agreement between the two entities, but at least one JCPB board member wants more information to ensure BVU has the financial stability to handle JCPB’s new offerings.

The JCPB began studying its options to provide high-speed Internet and telephone service to business customers two years ago, with requests for proposals being issued in December.

Four entities submitted proposals by the January deadline, and after reviewing those, JCPB staff selected BVU Authority.

The two entities hammered out an initial agreement, which will open the negotiation process for the final service plan.

“It is imperative we have this legal review done so we can enter into negotiations” with BVU, said Homer G’Fellers, JCPB president and CEO. That agreement was passed to board attorney Tom McKee to review and report back to the board.

Board member Phil Carriger said he wanted to know more about BVU before agreeing to a service plan.

Brian Bolling, business development officer at JCPB, gave board members a snapshot of BVU’s services.

The authority has approximately 16,000 electric customers, 8,000 water and sewer customers and 12,000 telcom customers.

According to the company’s website, it “provides electricity, water, wastewater and fiber-optic telecommunication and information services to the City of Bristol, Virginia, Washington County, Virginia and Abingdon, Virginia.”

Those combined systems employ around 158 people.

Carriger is concerned because BVU is significantly smaller than JCPB and he wants to be assured the company can handle the agreement.

According to a feasibility study on the issue, the JCPB would need to capture about 20 percent of the area’s total market for data services, about 15 percent of the market in phone services and around 5 percent of private data services over five years, based on a market of 3,000 commercial users.

The JCPB already has the fiber-optic network in place that will allow the extra capacity to provide the new service. The network was installed last year as part of its switch to advanced metering infrastructure, which allows meters to be read remotely.

After Carriger raised his concerns about BVU’s ability to financially handle the added customer base through the JCPB, Board Chairman Jenny Brock suggested a workshop prior to next month’s meeting.

The board agreed and will meet at noon June 22 for a workshop on the issue and the regular meeting will follow at 1 p.m.

In another matter, the board approved a land swap with American Electric Power that will streamline the coverage area along Interstate 81 near the Interstate 26 interchange.

Mark Eads, JCPB operations manager, said the issue came up when engineers involved in potential development in that area approached the JCPB about services.

The land AEP will receive joins the new industrial park that currently houses a FedEx distribution center.

“We believe this is a good move for us and AEP believes it is a good move for them,” Eads said.

The board approved the swap, but it won’t be final until AEP signs the agreement.

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