Next-generation internet arrives in Johnson City |

Internet infrastructure may be less understood than other types of infrastructure simply because it’s less visual: Unlike roads and water treatment plants, it’s not something you see on the landscape. But having future-proofed physical infrastructure is essential to making the internet work the way people expect — fast.

Stacy Evans, chief broadband and technology officer at BrightRidge Broadband, says Johnson City and a large portion of the BrightRidge service area are now on the leading edge of the broadband revolution — connecting people who lacked access and bringing the next generation of internet infrastructure to Northeast Tennessee.

The next generation, Evans says, is fiber-optic broadband to the premises — and it’s light-years better than the copper wire-based infrastructure built in much of the country when home internet use first took off more than three decades ago. He says it’s necessary to accommodate changes in the way people use the internet.

“It’s not the same thing that the old providers have at all,” Evans says. “The web applications that people are using, the way they’re using these tools, it’s as revolutionary as the early 1900s when electricity was first deployed in the state by the Tennessee Valley Authority.”

The internet consists of data signals that are sent via physical infrastructure. The difference between sending these signals through the copper wire in cable or phone lines and sending it through fiber-optic cable is a difference of extreme high speeds, capacity and latency, Evans says.

The characteristics of copper wire limit how much bandwidth the customer can access, especially in an upload direction, he says. Fiber-optic cable transmits data by light wave and offers exponentially more bandwidth to customers. Copper-based infrastructure also results in slower speeds in areas farther from the distribution hub, especially as more people log on, whereas fiber can bring the same high speed to its entire network with capacity to spare.

For BrightRidge, the expansion of broadband access is about bringing this next-generation internet to its customers — and using the synergies to keep electric rates lower.

“By the end of 2023, we expect to have all the city limits of Johnson City covered with fiber, and then building out those additional locations — currently we just completed fiber build out through Gray and nearing completion on the first sections of phase 4 in southeast Johnson City,” Evans says. “Our ultimate plan is to serve all 81,000 electric subscribers with broadband services in the future.”

A lot has changed in the last 30 years, Evans says: Back then, few people were uploading large amounts of data. So, internet architecture was built to the equivalent of a 10-lane highway with nine lanes going south and just one lane going north. As use exploded beyond web browsing and downloads, this architecture was rapidly found lacking, leaving customers unable to complete important work necessary for school and employment.

“On your smartphone you take photos and take videos, you use social media. You’re pushing tremendous amounts of data to the internet cloud, so that’s huge and growing,” he says. “The COVID pandemic exacerbated these limitations because people working from home quickly realized that slow upload speeds dramatically limited what they could do.”

That’s why BrightRidge is building a symmetrical fiber-optic infrastructure, he says: the data equivalent of building nine lanes in each direction.

As a result, BrightRidge Broadband will boost everything from virtual meetings to video security systems and “smart” appliances to telemedicine and doctors’ ability to remotely analyze medical scans.

For BrightRidge, a nonprofit utility company formerly known as the Johnson City Power Board, the internet effort began with a 2017 survey that revealed huge demand for better services.

That prompted the 76-year-old electric provider to create its internet division in 2018 and begin serving customers in 2019. Today, BrightRidge Broadband serves more than 6,000 homes and businesses with broadband services with hundreds more added each month.

Evans says Johnson City, Jonesborough and Washington County are only the sixth community in the United States to offer 10 Gbps (gigabyte per second) symmetrical broadband in the home, and BrightRidge was the first provider to offer it out of the gate to all fiber-optic customers in its service area. In other words, BrightRidge has brought truly world-class internet to the Johnson City area.

Very few internet providers in the country offer 10 GB symmetrical services and certainly not at BrightRidge’s low pricing, he said. And it’s rapidly expanding. He says the system is linked to the top two internet backbone hubs on the East Coast — in Northern Virginia and Atlanta — and it’s so fast, professional video gamers in other parts of the country are actually complaining that it’s unfair.

Meanwhile, he says it’s helping both BrightRidge Electric and Broadband customers as well as consumers of competing internet providers.

It helps electric customers, Evans says, because the proliferation of energy efficient products throughout society has reduced demand even though the number of customers has grown. The pressure this puts on electric rates is being offset by revenues from the sale of broadband internet services.

It also helps all internet consumers because competition drives down prices, and it boosts the region because broadband access is a huge decision factor for businesses and individuals in deciding where to locate, just like the original basic utilities of water, sewer and electricity.

Evans says the company offers up-front and consistent pricing, no service contracts or data caps, 24/7 local customer service, free installation, and competitive pricing, starting at $49.99 monthly for its 200 Mbps (megabytes per second) service and $149.99 for its 10 Gpbs service, with several options in between.

For more details, visit www.MyBrightRidge.com or call 423-952-5000.

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