BrightRidge Broadband Expansion Two Years Ahead of Schedule | WJHL

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – BrightRidge’s board of directors and other utility officials said plans to expand high-speed fiber-optic internet in the city and county of Washington are on track. ahead of schedule.

Members of BrightRidge’s board of directors were briefed on the fiscal year 2023 budget totaling just under $25 million during a meeting on Tuesday afternoon.

The provider’s initial eight-phase expansion of its fiber internet system was scheduled to be completed by June 2026, but state grants and funding from the City of Johnson City moved it to June 2024.

If the budget is approved, it could eventually bring high-speed Internet availability to nearly 50,000 homes and businesses across the city and county.

Over the next year, fiber optic lines will be installed to provide high-speed Internet access to much of the East Town of Johnson, completing Phase 5 and much of Phase 6.

Phase 5 would add 6,793 “passages” – connections available to homes and businesses within BrightRidge’s service area.

Phase 6 would add 3,319 passes.

BrightRidge has announced that the first part of Phase 5 is now available in an area near Oakland Avenue and Bristol Highway in Johnson City in a Facebook post yesterday.

These phases were accelerated by $2.3 million in funding from the city’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding.

“We are really able to accelerate construction in the Johnson City area, especially in areas that may be poorer,” said Stacy Evans, director of broadband for BrightRidge.

A budget forecast called for Phases 7 and 8 to be completed by June 2024, adding 6,959 passages in total.

Phase 7 would provide fiber optic internet connection to the South Piney Flats and Winged Deer Park areas. Phase 8 would cover areas west of Johnson City in Washington County and an area south of Jonesborough.

The accelerated broadband implementation has also freed up funds for additional fiber expansion in Colonial Heights and Fordtown near Kingsport and near Cherokee Road in south Johnson City.

This would be completed in fiscal year 2025 and add 5,643 passages to the total.

In fiscal year 2026, BrightRidge plans to upgrade its underground infrastructure for the area included in Phase 6.

In total, the expansion would provide 46,731 fiber runs by FY2026.

This adds more than 20,000 passes to its current reach of 23,605 fibers.

Not included in the budget is a potential grant being sought by BrightRidge that would pay for additional fiber runs in rural Washington County.

The utility hopes to secure an economic and community development grant from the state that would provide connections to 1,800 homes within the county’s borders.

The state would contribute $6.17 million and the county would match $2.64 million if awarded.

Newly appointed Washington County Board Representative Ronald Hite said his vision is to eventually expand the service to the entire county.

“We would like to cover all these other areas, the remote areas, and without the grants we could never do that,” Hite said.

Hite said the BrightRidge service would be faster and cheaper than current options in these areas.

Evans said it would fundamentally change the way people living in those rural areas use the internet.

“It allows you to telecommute from home for any job. It also allows you to educate remotely,” Evans said. “We surveyed several hundred customers in these unserved areas. , and the one thing about 100% of them said we needed was telemedicine options.”

If the grant is approved, Brightridge could establish an additional line to cover 5,620 homes in rural Washington County.

Evans said they expect to hear from the state about the grant application in August.

The budget also gives new priority to connecting low-income households to the Internet.

In the fiscal year 2023 budget, BrightRidge would join the Federal Communication Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program.

The FCC would provide credits allowing low-income applicants to receive free Internet access at 100/mbps.

“It gives them a chance to really connect, to be able to use the internet for maybe even small businesses or even work remotely from home,” said Jenny Brock, BrightRidge board member and commissioner of the town of Johnson.

Brock said Johnson City’s use of ARPA funds to accelerate broadband implementation was targeted to low-income areas.

She said this could have an impact on education in these low-income areas.

“These kids will be better prepared for school because they have internet access at home,” Brock said. “It’s going to make things so much better for them and help them prepare.”

Brock said the ability to provide high-speed internet access throughout the city makes it an even more attractive place to live.

With several developers wanting to build, Brock said access to fiber can attract people working online.

“It’s a key attraction for a large group of people,” Brock said. “I believe it will help the economy. It’s going to improve productivity in our city, and it’s just an opportunity for new types of businesses to start that are Internet-based.

Evans said the fiber extensions are being built with the capacity to handle 110% of all connections currently available, creating the opportunity for fiber to reach new neighborhoods.

BrightRidge’s board of directors will formally approve the fiscal year 2023 budget at a meeting next week.

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