MTEMC exploring offering broadband, TV service

A newer and likely less expensive option for high-speed broadband internet, TV and phone service could be in the cards for Rutherford County. The board of directors and leadership for Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation (MTEMC), a not-for-profit cooperative that provides electricity to 220,000 members in Wilson, Rutherford, Williamson and Cannon counties, will make a decision this year whether they will build and service a high-speed fiber internet network. “We asked our members if they had an interest in high-speed internet,” said Josh Clendenen, communication coordinator for MTEMC. “They overwhelmingly said ‘yes.'”

Brent Baldwin, a proposal writer and marketing consultant who works from a home office in rural Wilson County, is one of those members who says he would benefit from a reliable connection. Currently, he only has access to a cellular internet connection, limiting his download totals and speed. That makes it difficult to conduct his business, he said, considering many of his clients are based in Nashville and other states.

“Right now my internet is so slow I have trouble opening Gmail. I’m really starting to get hamstrung in my business,” he said. “There are probably hundreds like me.” Board discussing network since 2017

Since the Tennessee General Assembly passed the Broadband Accessibility Act of 2017 in April, which was openly championed by Gov. Bill Haslam, the state’s non-profit electric cooperatives are allowed to provide broadband internet service and have access to grant money to help build infrastructure. It is part of Haslam’s NextTennessee legislative plan aimed at spurring economic growth and the state’s competitiveness for the next generation of Tennesseans. MTEMC is currently in the process of deploying a high-speed fiber network to connect their electric facilities and substations.

Once that infrastructure is in place, Clendenen said they would look at what other benefits that infrastructure could offer to their members. “Our board and leadership has been discussing this for a long time,” he said. “For the past nine months, they have been talking about the options of offering broadband to our members.” Before local residents could connect to a MTEMC broadband internet line, Clendenen confirmed a lot of infrastructure would need to be built, taking months to years, and the business plan would have to be beneficial for corporation members.

“We have been laying the fiber backbone, but we have to look at the business side,” he said. “Is it feasible? Will we offer several speeds or only offer a ‘triple play,’ TV, phone and broadband internet? These are all things we are exploring.”

MTEMC currently has utility poles throughout the four counties which could carry the fiber lines, and engineers are exploring underground fiber deployment as well. “We have more than 11,000 miles of line right now. I think it is important to remember that deploying a fiber network to all the areas we serve would take time.”

And the fiber network under consideration could offer gigabit speeds, the same speeds offered by other services such as Google Fiber and public utilities such as Chattanooga’s lauded fiber network. A recent study by Harvard University found the majority of community-owned broadband internet services are cheaper over a period of four years and offered clearer billing than their for-profit counterparts such as Verizon, AT&T and Comcast. Timetable for decision?

While there is no timetable for the decision, Clendenen said he hopes it is sooner rather than later. MTEMC’s Board of Directors expects to make their decision in 2018. “Our CEO (and President Chris Jones) has said that we have the great opportunity to do what our forefathers did a hundred years ago by providing electricity in underserved areas,” this time with broadband internet, Clendenen said.

He added that if it was implemented, the proposed services would be offered to all members in their coverage area, offering competition to those who are unhappy with their current service and pricing. (However, MTEMC does not offer service within Murfreesboro city limits.) “We are in the unique position to provide a service our members need.

We are not taking this lightly.

We have to be good stewards for our members.”

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