By Dave Ongie
It was about an hour into a joint work session between Johnson City’s Board of Commissioners and Jeff Dykes, CEO of BrightRidge, when vice mayor Joe Wise finally posed the question many around Washington County have been pondering in recent months.
“So, when do I get my fancy Internet?” Wise asked.
Up to that point in the meeting, Dykes had been briefing the commissioners on BrightRidge’s potential consolidation with Elizabethton Electric. Dykes asked commissioners to consider adjusting the Certificate of Incorporation (COI) between the city and BrightRidge to conform to terms outlined in the Energy Authority Act. He also briefed city leaders on the impact the consolidation would have on future payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) payments to the city.
When discussion turned toward the possibility of considering an amendment to alter the COI at the next commission meeting, however, Wise thought making a move at this point would be premature. In order for the merger to go through, Elizabethton’s City Council would have to approve a request for a referendum, and the voters in Elizabethton would have to then vote in favor of the acquisition.
“I think to put it on our next agenda would seem awfully foolhardy, and I’m more conservative than that,” Wise said. “I’m not opposed. I just don’t know that we should be voting on it that quickly.”
When Wise asked about the impending rollout of BrightRidge’s broadband program – which promises to bring voice, video and high-speed Internet to its customers – Dykes was more than happy to switch gears. He talked enthusiastically about progress crews were making on installing fiber optic cable, and he told commissioners that he expects the first broadband customers to be hooked up starting in February.
Opting for a conservative rollout, Dykes said broadband service will soon be available in Phase 1, which will include Downtown Johnson City on the west side of Interstate 26. The first phase will extend down Walnut Street toward ETSU and up Roan Street to the point where Roan and I-26 connect. The western boundary of Phase 1 extends roughly to Knob Creek Road.
Meanwhile, Phase 1 also includes Jonesborough’s Main Street, which is being outfitted with fiber optic cable, and other customers in Washington County will soon have access to wireless Internet service. Select business parks in our area will also be among the first wave of the rollout.
Those wondering whether they are included in the first phase will simply need to watch their mailboxes. Dykes said the plan is to use target marketing aimed specifically at folks who live or work in the area receiving service first.
“They’re getting very close to having that stuff ready to go out,” Dykes said.