Broadband key to landing young professionals

Robert Houk • Oct 13, 2019 at 12:00 AM

Washington County economic development leaders hope access to broadband and the beauty of local mountains will lure young entrepreneurs to the region.

BrightRidge officials are betting their new broadband division and emerging technology can help make that possible.

Members of Washington County’s Commercial, Industrial and Agriculture Committee heard an update Thursday on BrightRidge’s first year in the broadband business. Stacy Evans, the utility’s chief broadband officer, told county commissioners BrightRidge has met and in some cases exceeded its goals for Phase I.

“We’ve added 622 more customers than planned,” Evans said.

He noted development of the utility’s fiber optics network to the county’s business and industrial parks is also on track, with work to Med Tech Park and the Johnson City Industrial Park now complete.

Commissioner Phil Carriger said BrightRidge’s push into high-speed broadband internet is “a big plus” for the county’s economic development efforts. Carriger told Evans he and other members of the CIA Committee hope the utility’s new service will help entice young business owners to the region.

He noted that the committee met last month with 20 “young entrepreneurs” at Spark Plaza in Johnson City to talk about how to attract younger business owners and professionals to the area. Carriger said access to reliable broadband and being able to work from home were among the things discussed.

More recently, Carriger said he read that officials in Nashville and Knoxville are making a strong push to lure young professionals to those communities.

“I sure wish we can get them to work in Northeast Tennessee,” Carriger said. 

He said it was important “to get the word out” about the opportunities this region can offer to people from other areas of the country who are “fed up with high taxes and the congestion and want to work from home.”

Evans said BrightRidge’s fast broadband speeds can help young professionals do just that. 

“The volume of our bandwidth is incredible,” Evan said. “We’ve built into the two top data centers in the Southeast.”

In addition to its fiber optics, BrightRidge is offering state-of-the art wireless broadband service to rural and under-served areas of the county. He said that is key because installing fiber optics can cost as much as $30,000 a mile.

Commissioner Kent Harris said wireless broadband is a godsend for rural communities like those he represents. He said many homes in his district don’t have reliable access to the internet.

Harris said that often puts schoolchildren who need to go online to do their homework at a disadvantage.

“Families where I live have to drive to Jonesborough and park someplace where they have Wi-Fi,” Harris said.

Evans said wireless internet can help solve many of those access problems. He said as many as 500 customers can be connected to one of BrightRidge’s broadband towers. 

He also believes new technology will allow BrightRidge to extend broadband to even more customers. Evans told commissioners last week utilities are keeping an eye on promising “new technology on the horizon,” such as a system Georgia Power is currently experimenting with to transmit broadband as radio signals over existing power lines.

He said such an approach could represent a dramatic advance in the broadband business.

“The future is looking really bright,” Evans said.

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