UPDATE: JUNE, 2022
After several years, Dickson Electric System (DES) has completed the legal hurdles and regulatory reviews required to establish a division to provide broadband services.
During the May, 2022 meeting of the Dickson City Council, all eight council members voted unanimously in favor of Resolution #2022-3 to authorize the DES Broadband Division to be established and marking the final of many steps for a municipal electric system to expand its services to include broadband internet for all DES customers.
This historic decision comes after a lengthy gauntlet of both State and Federal regulatory review.
Last year, the State of Tennessee Comptroller’s office reviewed Dickson Electric’s comprehensive business case to assess the viability of providing broadband and other services. This review concluded that the division would be viable and provide services that are greatly needed by those in the DES service area. The business case was developed with the assistance of industry consultants that have a wealth of knowledge and experience in providing analysis and guidance to create an unbiased and successful business plan.
In addition to the Comptroller, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), the federal regulator that oversees all 153 TVA local power companies including DES, conducted an extensive review of the broadband division plan and the financial impact to the electric system. As the broadband division will utilize the existing DES fiber network to provide broadband and other retail services, the newly created division must pay the electric system for the portion of the network used. This financial review covered every aspect of the two divisions with the objective to protect the electric ratepayer and prevent the broadband division from being subsidized by the electric system. TVA concluded that the proposal would not be subsidized by the electric system, and no contingencies were placed on the Broadband or Electric divisions as part of the approval giving DES the green light to plow on.
Both state and federal government funds have been designated as grant funds to be utilized to fill this need for reliable high-speed internet services to communities in unserved and underserved areas. Many of you who are reading this now may live in one of the numerous areas across our DES footprint with little to no access to quality, affordable internet services. It is imperative that these communities, and all communities, have the option for reliable internet connectivity in today’s connected world.
Earlier this year, DES completed applications seeking grant funds to construct a fiber-based broadband network into five of the counties served by DES. If we are successful in being awarded these grant funds, they will reduce the capital cost associated with the construction of a fiber to the home (FTTH) network and help to expedite the buildout to those underserved areas for which the funds are intended.
Being a Municipal-operated broadband utility provides a unique business model, where everything stays local. Revenues are to be reinvested into the communities we serve; as a not-for-profit organization, the objective is to provide service at the lowest cost feasible. This difference, among many others, distinguishes DES Broadband as a community-driven, community-focused service.
The new broadband division will provide opportunities for our service area to be engaged in the digital world, and grow the communities we serve. We have heard from many of you and so appreciate the support that has been shown and the input we’ve received about DES’s broadband plan.
As DES moves ahead, the overwhelming question is “What’s Next?”
DES is currently in the process of securing the financing for the broadband project. A proposal for the City of Dickson and Dickson Electric to legally issue the municipal bond to fund the majority of the investment for the project– the largest investment in the utility’s 117-year history– will be on the agenda for the regularly scheduled City of Dickson August Council Meeting.
As more information becomes available, updates will be made to the website and communication will be shared with customers via local media channels, social media, direct mail, and community engagement and promotional events about the upcoming services and status of the broadband project and fiber system buildout. Stay tuned!
UPDATE: APRIL, 2021
Affordable, High-Speed Internet is Coming:
Dickson Electric Awaiting Approvals from TVA and State;
Currently Working to Fill Director of Broadband Position.
As the eagerly-anticipated project for DES to provide customers with high-speed fiber internet continues to move forward, DES is working diligently behind-the-scenes to complete necessary tasks to establish a separate division within the company for DES Broadband. The broadband business plans have been submitted for approval from both state and federal agencies, and those approvals are critical before next steps may be taken to begin the buildout to serve customers with reliable, affordable, incredibly fast internet.
In order to for a public utility in the Tennessee Valley to provide additional services to customers outside of electric power, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), in its role as regulator for power companies, requires that a separate division must be established apart from the electric power division in order to ensure that existing ratepayers’ best interests are protected from potential risk of the additional business. While Dickson Electric awaits the plan approvals from TVA and the state, other progress has been made by DES management and staff since the board voted unanimously to move forward with the broadband plan in October of 2020.
TIMELINE OF STEPS TO DES FIBER TO THE HOME SERVICES:
- (July, 2019) Power Board approves Feasibility Study to be completed.
- (Fall – End of 2019) Feasibility Study by NRTC.
- (February, 2020) Board is presented with Feasibility Study Results/Report; approves next step to survey all DES customers to evaluate interest and existing provider satisfaction.
- (Summer, 2020) Broadband Customer Survey campaign to reach customers by DES and Inside Information
- (October, 2020) Presentation of Survey Results by Inside Information to power board; board votes unanimously to move forward with providing fiber internet to homes and businesses.
- (November, 2020) DES General Manager presented Broadband Plan to Dickson City Council’s Finance Committee.
- (January – ongoing) Construct new facility on existing DES property for all public access; new office building will house all existing office and executive personnel as well as allow for growth/expansion for additional broadband employees; initial meeting with architects and management team: February, 2021.
- (February, 2021) Received the last of local resolutions from all city and town councils as well as county governments served by DES; these resolutions were passed to express the support for DES broadband services by each respective community served.
- (February – ongoing) DES is actively working to fill the role of Director of Broadband Services, a position which must be filled prior to other critical positions within the broadband division will be filled.
- (March, 2021) Create separate benefits package for changes to new-employee benefits packages for both broadband and electric division new-hires.
- (Ongoing – Next Step) Research and complete grant funding applications from state, federal, and other potential sources.
- (Next Step) Secure $80+ million in financing via municipal bond to fund broadband project.
Like other power companies who have recently or are currently building out their system’s fiber network to offer internet services to their customers, DES’s plan will include a phase approach and will span over several years before all customers have access to the services. At this time, the details of each phase of the multiyear fiber buildout have not yet been identified, but the company is planning to incorporate a mix of both rural and urban communities within each phase of the project. Many communities across the DES service map are grossly underserved or completely overlooked by existing internet providers. In fact, the majority of DES customers have little to no access to affordable, quality internet which is unacceptable in today’s world. DES recognizes that reliable internet access should no longer be considered a luxury or supplemental, but instead as another essential service, like electricity, water, and other utilities. Having access to quality internet is absolutely critical to daily living and quality of life and directly impacts one’s ability to live, work, play, learn, grow, and succeed. Since DES has evaluated the system to identify areas that are most in need of internet services, the public power company will include a balance of remote and underserved areas with more urban, populated communities within each phase of the project plan.
The Director of Broadband Services for DES will be a critical component of the project and a role that is currently working to be filled. The director position will report directly to DES General Manager and will lead the entire broadband division. This role will also be tasked with executing the infrastructure buildout and project deployment including hiring of additional broadband personnel to fill positions that have been identified by the feasibility report and are outlined in the business plan.
The entire broadband project is estimated to require a $83.6 million investment by DES making the addition of fiber to the home services the most significant investment that the utility has made in its 116-year history. Once the Director has been named and the business plan approvals have been received, DES will begin the application process for grant funding, seeking any and all public grant funding available at both state and federal levels. Any grant money that DES receives will be used to speed up the project timeline and provide targeted funds to assist with the buildout to serve specific areas/communities as soon as possible.
We are excited for what is coming at Dickson Electric. We recognize the desperation and urgency felt within many areas of our communities that are severely underserved and lack access to any quality internet. Our aim is for project efficiency, community engagement, and expectation and progress transparency as we move forward. We’ll do our best to keep you informed and updated on the ongoing project deployment and greatly appreciate your patience and understanding as we navigate a huge investment with a significant number of hurdles to clear and boxes to check. DES recognizes how very critical this need is for our customers, and we look forward to fulfilling this need and expanding our role as a trusted, connected community partner and service provider.
Stay connected with Dickson Electric news, services, updates, events, and opportunities by following them on Facebook and Twitter at @dicksonelectric.
[UPDATE: OCTOBER, 2020]
DES Power Board APPROVES Broadband Services for Dickson Electric Customers
At the October 6th meeting of the DES Power Board, the long-awaited decision to move forward with providing much-needed broadband internet was made with a unanimous vote by the five-member board of directors to proceed.
While the decision by the board clears the way for next steps to be taken in the process, it is important that expectations remain realistic about when customers can expect to begin purchasing and utilizing DES’s fiber infrastructure. After this month’s vote, DES management will now seek local support from community leaders as well as formal approval from Federal and State regulators to provide broadband internet services to DES customers. The details of DES’s broadband business plan are derived from the results of the first two major steps that were taken over the past 15 months to help identify the feasibility of adding this additional service to the otherwise electric-only utility.
Earlier in the year at the February Power Board meeting, a representative from National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative (NRTC), the company hired by DES to complete step number one—the Broadband Feasibility Study, presented a comprehensive report to board members in which all aspects of the project plan were outlined including total investment, scope of the project, cost for services, increased personnel and training requirements, current providers/existing competition, and underserved areas within DES’s service territory.
As step number two, Dickson Electric urged all customers to complete a Broadband Customer Survey in order for the utility to obtain the quantifiable data needed for the feasibility report to be valid. Unlike most customer surveys which gather data only from a small sample of the larger customer base, DES management and board felt that giving all customers across every community an opportunity to have their voice heard would be critical to all parties. Before their vote during the October meeting, board members heard a presentation on the survey results which were, as expected, overwhelmingly positive with over 99% of respondents in favor of DES expanding its services and providing internet to customers.
The Power Board’s decision to proceed with the process of providing broadband to customers has been eagerly-anticipated as this year’s unprecedented pandemic has forced so many residents to stay home for work, school, doctor visits, and more. The approval from both TVA and the State of Tennessee’s Comptroller’s Office will be required before DES can seek financing for the $80 million project. TVA requests a 90-day period for the review of the broadband plan, so DES expects it to be first quarter of 2021 before DES has secured the support from local community leaders and commissions as well as received necessary approvals for the broadband project plan and can move forward to financing the project.
Many customers will likely still have questions, specifically to timing. And, unfortunately, DES does not yet have all of the details or answers. However, assuming each next step moves smoothly and quickly, DES leadership is hopeful that the utility could begin providing high-speed, affordable, reliable fiber-to-the-home internet to the first phase of DES customers sometime during the second half of 2021. The completion of a comprehensive business plan, necessary infrastructure expansion and build-out to the fiber system, and additional recruitment and training of necessary personnel all must be completed before broadband services are ready to be enjoyed by DES customers.
DES manager Darrell Gillespie assures customers that everyone at DES is doing and will continue to do their part to ensure this process moves along swiftly, as “time is of the essence“— especially with the uncertainty of the future of the education systems and many industries turning to work-from-home options. “We look forward to fulfilling this critical need for our valued customers and will seek support from the communities we serve as we work to bring reliable, quality internet to every home and business.”
[UPDATE: Summer, 2020]
Trusted Community Partner
Dickson Electric System (DES) is at the heart of a midstate area that is booming with economic growth making it an ideal destination for families, businesses, and new industries. DES is a public power utility dedicated to upholding the public power business model as a not-for-profit municipal system which employs local residents who live, work, and play within the communities we serve. We put money right back into those communities every year with tax equivalent payments to the counties, cities, and towns in our service territory, meaning your money stays here, your rates stay affordable, and your community reaps the benefits when we succeed.
As the decades have passed and technology has evolved, DES has worked hard to provide additional services to meet customer needs. In recent years, the need for access to affordable, quality, high-speed internet has been a significant concern for many of our 36,000 DES customers. While other internet service providers cover much of the most populated areas and communities, customers who live in areas that are not yet served by these companies all share the same consistent complaint- there is simply no reliable or affordable option for them to receive high-speed internet service at their home. And while this may have once been considered a luxury, there is no doubt that we are now living in a time where access to internet is not just an amenity to be enjoyed, but a necessity that is vital to many important areas of our lives. At Dickson Electric, we recognize this NEED that exists for so many of the families and businesses residing in these underserved areas. For years, DES management and members of our Power Board have discussed this need and how we, as your power company, may be uniquely positioned to fill this gap by providing broadband internet in addition to electric power to our customers.
Broadband Internet Services
Long before customers were stuck at home following government orders for a pandemic-related quarantine, the lack of access to quality internet was a serious concern. However, the quarantine only brought more attention to the issue and has further highlighted just how bad this problem is for our underserved areas. Internet access affects more than just quality of life—our education system, healthcare system, housing market, careers, entertainment options, economic and industrial recruitment, and more are directly affected by whether a home or area has access to quality internet services.
Currently, Dickson Electric is undergoing the second step in the process of evaluating the feasibility for providing broadband internet to customers. We have already completed a Broadband Feasibility Study for which we partnered with NRTC, a company that has completed numerous such studies across the country, most of which were specific to rural, underserved areas. The second step of our process is a Broadband Customer Survey which will be available for all DES customers to complete during the months of July and August. This survey will allow our customers to provide us the quantifiable feedback needed in addition to the Feasibility Report from NRTC for our Power Board to make the decision whether to proceed with the next step in the process or to decide against providing broadband services.
At Dickson Electric, our role as a trusted energy expert and community partner continues to grow and develop over time. If our board finds that it is viable and economically feasible for us to add local internet provider to the list of roles that we play, we will be proud to bring high-speed, reliable, affordable internet to the homes, businesses, and industries we serve. Whatever direction we go and any decisions that are made, we assure you that the best interests of you, our valued customer, will be at the forefront of those considerations.
As we look to wrap up this second step of our broadband evaluation process, many customers have a lot of questions: “When will an official decision be made?” “How much will the internet services cost?” “When will you get to neighborhood/ home?” While we do not yet have all of the answers to every question, we can tell you that we expect a final decision to be made by our Power Board within this quarter of 2020. The next step in the process will be to secure financing for this investment—a step with many important “t’s to cross and i’s to dot.” Regardless of how smoothly and quickly the next steps may end up moving, it will very likely be 2021 before any DES customers receive broadband services from us. The necessary infrastructure expansion and build-out to our system, additional recruitment and training of added personnel, and the completion of a comprehensive business plan must be completed before broadband services are ready to be enjoyed by customers.
We can assure you that we are doing and will continue to do our part to ensure this process moves along swiftly, as we recognize that “time is of the essence”—especially with the uncertainty of the future of our education systems and industries turning to the work-from-home option—but we appreciate your understanding and patience with us as we move forward.
We will soon have a page added to our website (dicksonelectric.com) that will include more information such as FAQs, timeline specifics, and a “Contact Us” form for you to access online. This will also include a link for each DES customer to complete a brief survey about internet interest in your area. We appreciate your willingness to take the time to provide this vital feedback to us and to our Power Board.