TMEPA Calls on General Assembly to Strike Down Municipal Broadband Restrictions

Press release from the Tennessee Municipal Electric Power Association; February 23, 2015:

Municipal Electric Broadband Service Restricted, Unable to Offer Fastest Service in the Country to Those Who Want It

BRENTWOOD, Tennessee – The Tennessee Municipal Electric Power Association (TMEPA) is seeking to end Tennessee’s constraint on municipal electric broadband so that communities can choose their internet providers and to give more Tennesseans access to the fastest broadband speeds in the country.

TMEPA consists of the state’s 60 municipal systems which serve 2.1 million homes and businesses, or 70% of Tennessee’s electric customers. TMEPA is supporting legislation (SB1134/HB1303) that removes the current limitation on municipal electric broadband providers that restricts broadband service to just its electric service territory. This change in the law would allow municipal electric broadband to expand to more areas where it is needed if those communities want it.

“High-speed broadband is the next utility of the 21st century, and municipal electric broadband should be allowed to be an option for more communities across Tennessee,” said Jeremy Elrod, Director of Government Relations for TMEPA.

Today’s world has made high-speed broadband vital infrastructure that drives local economies, promotes economic development, increases educational opportunities and outcomes, increases regional and global competitiveness, and allows more opportunities for telemedicine, telework, and a better quality of life. Communities with fast internet service become attractive for private investment, and communities without it are unable to provide the modern services that businesses and consumers need and want.

“With the critical need for more and better access to high-speed broadband, a community should have every option available to it as it tries to meet its needs,” said Elrod. “Just as a city decides for itself how to offer electric or water services, it should be able to decide for itself what kind of broadband service it wants.”

Across the state there is a vast difference in available internet speeds. Nearly half of rural Tennesseans still lack access to 25 megabits per second broadband, the FCC’s new broadband standard, and many have little to no internet connectivity at all. Conversely, municipal electric systems have made Tennessee the leader in the nation in per capita availability to gigabit speed broadband with 1 in 10 Tennesseans having access to the fastest speeds in the country. All Tennessee consumers and businesses have access to electric service, but not all have access to the new necessity of high-speed broadband.

Tennessee’s municipal electric broadband providers use fiber optic cable to deliver broadband services. This state of the art connection makes its capable to provide the fastest internet speeds available in the country, 1 gigabit per second. The high capacity of fiber gives additional benefits to consumers and businesses such as freedom from data caps and internet speeds that are the same whether downloading or uploading data.

Because fiber is the fastest, most reliable way, and most secure way to transmit data, many Tennessee municipal electric systems are already installing fiber optic systems for its smart grid capabilities. The result is millions of dollars invested in a smart grid that increases system reliability, reduces outage times, and helps to keep electric rates competitive for everyone. Given the ability to use its fiber system for more purposes, a municipal electric system can develop innovative solutions to meet its community’s broadband needs.

“Our members value one thing above all: serving their communities,” said Mike Vinson, Executive Director of TMEPA. “In today’s world that’s more than just keeping electric service affordable and reliable, it now includes providing other services like high-speed broadband. Tennessee’s municipal electric systems strive to meet their community’s needs.”

Municipal electric systems were established in the early 20th century as a locally controlled and governed means of delivering electricity to those in need of the new necessity of electric power. This “public power model” helped electrify the state and make it attractive because of its affordable and reliable power.

“The 21st century version of electrification is high speed broadband, providing the same benefits in both eras: access to modern utilities for more people across the state decided at a local level,” says Vinson. “Just as local electric systems did then, municipal electric broadband helps to spur job creation, encourages innovation, and is a driver for economic growth, all by bringing modern services to their communities.”

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Additional Information:

Current Municipal Electric Broadband Providers
(g) – offers gigabit speeds * – beginning service ** – offer gigabit speeds soon

  • Bristol (g)
  • Chattanooga (g)
  • Clarksville (g)
  • Columbia
  • Erwin *
  • Jackson **
  • Morristown (g)
  • Pulaski
  • Tullahoma (g)

To view testimony on what some of Tennessee’s broadband needs look like, visit the General Assembly’s website to watch the February 10 meeting of Senate Commerce and Labor Committee which held a hearing on the topic.