UPDATE: OCTOBER, 2020
DES Power Board APPROVES Broadband Services for 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.”
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.