iRis Network gains Johnson City Commission approval to install fiber-optic network

Zach Vance • Updated Jul 20, 2017 at 11:18 PM

A regional broadband provider moved one step closer to amplifying its fiber-optic presence in Johnson City. 

During Thursday’s meeting, Johnson City commissioners unanimously approved the first reading of an ordinance that would allow iRis Networks to install 5.45 miles of fiber-optic cable along city-owned right of ways. 

But unfortunately, consumers interested in changing their internet providers won’t be able to directly connect to iRis’ fiber-optic network once the project is complete. 

“We do not provide services to residents,” David Laxton, outside plant manager for iRis Networks, told the City Commission. 

“When you have an infrastructure like this in the area, it does promote the local providers to offer more services and maybe even better services.”

Commissioner Jenny Brock said iRis is sort of like a “wholesale provider,” which creates an “interstate” that other telecommunication companies connect to. 

Termed a “middle-mile” provider, iRis Networks connects larger metropolitan areas to smaller ones.

“Regional and national carriers use these networks to extend fiber networks deeper into a geography. Middle-mile networks are the cornerstone of any rural broadband project, without them long haul (providers) can’t connect to distribution,” company spokesman Steve Smith told the Johnson City Press. 

Smith said iRis will likely be serving large and mid-sized businesses with multi-locational requirements, such as health care providers, national chain stores, colleges, manufacturing and banking establishments. 

Based in Nashville, iRis’ vast network farms out its fiber-optic infrastructure to localized telecommunication companies who can then provide services directly to rural and urbanized consumers. 

“The iRis network predominantly serves carriers, connecting providers to exchange points, data centers and connecting cell towers back to switching centers,” Smith said. “(We’re) providing connections for our customer’s customers.”

The company already has a small fiber-optic network in Johnson City, which runs above ground via Tennessee Valley Authority’s power lines, according to Laxton.

If authorized, Laxton said the company will move its current above-ground fiber cable, located at the TVA substation on Nathan Lynn Lane, and bury its network underground using a process called “directional drilling.” 

“Instead of drilling straight down, it just drills horizontally,” Laxton said. 

Some commissioners questioned whether the “directional drilling” would hamper traffic flow or damage local roadways, but Laxton assured city leaders the process wouldn’t cause much disturbance. 

“There is very little disturbance above the ground,” Laxton told the commission. “We’re used (to the high-traffic streets). Typically, we’re able to stay over in the easement with the equipment. On occasion, we have to get over in the lane a little bit, but we, of course, have traffic control.” 

The plan is to stretch the cable from its current end point at the substation and move it along East Fairview Avenue. From there, it will stretch over to West Watauga Avenue and eventually reach West Market Street, where it will head westward towards Mosheim. 

If all three readings are approved, Laxton said the fiber optic installation will begin during the first quarter of 2018 and only take about 30 days to complete. 

iRis Networks, which is owned by 10 telephone co-op and communications companies, plans to extend its network from Johnson City all the way to Greeneville and then move it west to Knoxville. 

Commissioners also voted to adopt tax rates for 2017 as follows: 2 cent increase in Washington County, 1 cent increase in Carter County and a 5 cent increase in Sullivan County. 

City school employees also received good news during Thursday’s meeting as its Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance rates per employee per month remained $35.85, the same amount as last year. The annual cost of all 1,692 employees for health insurance was estimated to be $727,468. 

Email Zach Vance at [email protected] Follow Zach Vance on Twitter at @ZachVanceJCP. Like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/ZachVanceJCP.


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