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Tennessee Legislature Considers Four Pro-Muni Bills

Even though there are several publicly owned networks in Tennessee, existing state statutes create barriers discouraging investment. This year, there is a movement at the state Capitol that may change the environment.

The Jolt Digest and CivSource recently reported that four bills aimed at expanding municipal networks in Tennessee have strong support in Nashville. These Tennessee bills are a refreshing change from bills that are pushed by the cable and telephone companies to limit investment in next-generation networks.

However, these bills are often killed quickly in committee or subcommittee due to the tremendous lobbying power of the big cable and telephone companies.

According to the Jolt Digest, two bills are location specific. From the article:

S.B. 2005 and H.B. 1974 would expand the municipal electric system’s provision of broadband service in Clarksville, Tennessee’s fifth largest city, while S.B. 2140 and H.B. 2242 would allow Trousdale County  to contract with a rural electric cooperative to provide broadband services.  

As the rules stands, municipal electric utilities that offer broadband cannot expand beyond their electric service territory. Clarksville would like to reach out further to offer services to schools, hospitals, and industrial parks. CDE Lightband now provides a gig product that community anchors need. According to Christy Batts at CDE Lightband, the network recently upgraded residential customers without raising rates. The lowest Internet access speed available to new customers is now 50 Mbps for $44.95 per month.

The Jolt Digest describes the remaining bills as intended to redefine the state's current definition of "telecommunications." The change would allow electric cooperatives to use their existing dark fiber to reach customers that are not served by rural telephone cooperatives. The goal is to encourage economic development, education and health care.

As we so often find, these bills have bipartisan support. Though Republicans at the state and federal level tend to support big cable and telephone company positions more often than Democrats, both Republicans and Democrats at the local level overwhelmingly support the decision being made at a local level rather than state or federal preemption.

PDFs of the full text of the bills are available online:

SB2005, HB1974 - Affecting Clarksville

SB1240, HB2242 - Affecting Trousdale County

SB2428, HB2364 - Addressing the definition of "telecommunications"

SB2562, HB2482 - Facilitates the expansion of municipal utilities’ broadband services for economic development, education, and health care.

Morristown Network Creates Cost Savings and Spurs Job Growth

Located in the northeast corner of Tennessee, Morristown Utility Systems (MUS) offers gigabit broadband throughout a region that covers 30,000 residents and businesses. I recently spoke with MUS General Manager and CEO, Jody Wigington, about FiberNET’s progress and he had much to report, starting with over $5 million in cost savings for local businesses, residents, and the local government itself.

Asked about cost savings to Morristown’s city government, Wigington pointed to $840,000 in total savings from a smart meter program - a combination of lower annual power consumption and operational efficiencies. Another $20,000 in annual savings is due to the county not having to pay out-of-town IT contractors to maintain its network because the required expertise can now be found locally thanks to MUS’s dedicated network specialists.

Morristown businesses and residents are also saving, to the tune of $3.4-million annually thanks to FiberNET’s introduction of lower prices in the local broadband market. That’s $3.4-million, every year, which can be spent locally rather than being siphoned out of the community to corporate shareholders.

In terms of revenue, FiberNET generated $8.6-million during the most recent fiscal year and is projected to generate $8.8-million during the current one. FiberNET's solid financials have translated into increases in MUS’s payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT) to the city, which now amount to $350,000 per year, up from $150,000 in 2010. FiberNET’s strong financial performance resulted in MUS becoming cash flow positive just two years after launch, and net income positive after five years. Both of these key milestones were reached significantly quicker than initially projected.

MUS FiberNET’s impact on economic development is also notable. Oddello Industries, a contract furniture manufacturer that relies on FiberNET for its communications, recently announced a $4-million expansion in Morristown, resulting in 228 new jobs. Oddello CEO, Tom Roberts, cited “reliable utilities” among the reasons for investing in Morristown. This growth is part of a larger trend for Oddello, which has grown its Morristown presence from 35 to 415 employees in just the past year. 

Another sign of FiberNET’s impact on economic development is the recent decision by Molecular Pathology Laboratory Network (MPLN), a global leader in personalized laboratory medicine, to locate its primary backup facility in Morristown. As a global provider of diagnostics to hospitals, medical labs and physician groups, MPLN requires ultra-reliable data replication and disaster recovery services, which FiberNET enables.

Morristown Explains Why it Built a Fiber Network for Itself - Community Broadband Bits #35

Morristown, Tennessee, is one of very few communities where anyone in town can immediately get a gigabit delivered to their home and business. General Manager and CEO Jody Wigington of the municipal electric utility, Morristown Utility Systems, joins me to discuss why they built their network and how it is has benefited the community.

The network has also attracted businesses that otherwise might not consider the community for an investment. Competing providers have kept their prices lower than they do in communities with less competition, a tremendous benefit. MUS Fiber keeps more than $3 million in the community each year. Just think of that -- distributing $3 million among the residents of a community each year. That is real money that helps boost the local businesses.

We also talk about the origin of the system, how it has benefited the electric utility, and advice for other communities that are considering their own network investments. Read our additional coverage of MUS Fiber.

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In Tennessee, Morristown Joins the Gigabit Club

Located in the northeast corner of the state of Tennessee, Morristown Utility Systems offers FiberNET to Morristown's 30,000 residents and businesses. MUSFiberNET is another community that decided to take control of its destiny and invest in a municipal broadband network.

And by offering 1 Gbps anywhere in the community, Morristown is in the ultra-elite category of broadband in America.

We featured Morristown in one of the Muni FTTH Snapshots way back in June of 2009. They were doing well at the time but this great news shows how Morristown has brought next-gen, affordable, and reliable capabilities to anyone who wants it.

MUS FiberNET was built in 2006 and maintains a list of reasons why their network is superior to competitors. To advertise their incredible high capacity network, they developed this great billboard:

morristown-gig-ad.jpg

Morristown's Gig announcement never received the attention given to Chattanooga or Google's roll-out in Kansas City, which is unfortunate.

For commercial users, the Gig runs $849.00 per month, a ridiculously inexpensive price point compared to what large carriers commonly charge for the service. Morristown Schools are also taking advantage of the network, including making full use of the gig service. Residential prices vary from 6 Mbps/4 Mbps, download and upload speeds, for $34.95 to 20 Mbps/10 Mbps for $74.95 and MUS FiberNET also offers a variety of triple-play bundles.

Like many other communities in Tennessee, Morristown has few choices for service from private providers. After promising the state legislature major investments in Tennessee in return for favorable legislation, AT&T decided to only served high end, dense neighborhoods, as we have seen just about everywhere else.

Communities that are satisfied with last generation connections and having no control over the networks on which they depend can make do with AT&T and cable companies. But those who want universal access to fast, affordable, and reliable services should consider building a community fiber network.

Muni FTTH Snapshot - Morristown, TN

Publication Date: 
November 3, 2008
Author(s): 
Broadband Properties Magazine
Publication Title: 
Broadband Properties

Another snapshot, mostly containing technical data on the Morristown FTTH network - FiberNET. Like many networks in Tennessee, this network is run by the municipal utility. They started signing up customers in May 2006 and by late 2008 already had a take rate of 33%.

Perhaps the most significant sign of success is that neighboring communities want service as well.