BrightRidge opts for deliberate rollout of broadband products

BrightRidge CEO Jeff Dykes (left) credited board chair BJ King (right) and the rest of the board of directors for helping craft a rollout plan that will allow the utility to have the flexibility to adapt to changing technology and ensure the project remains profitable. CONTRIBUTED

BrightRidge CEO Jeff Dykes (left) credited board chair BJ King (right) and the rest of the board of directors for helping craft a rollout plan that will allow the utility to have the flexibility to adapt to changing technology and ensure the project remains profitable. CONTRIBUTED

By Dave Ongie

Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden often reminded his players to “be quick, but don’t hurry.”

That, in a nutshell, sums up BrightRidge’s strategy as the utility company prepares to roll out state-of-the-art fiber optic and fixed wireless technologies that will eventually make voice, video and high-speed Internet services available to over 61,000 customers.

The Internet offered by the new broadband division will be quick. In fact, only five cities in the United States currently have Internet speeds comparable with the 10Gbps service BrightRidge promises to offer its fiber optic customers. BrightRidge, however, is not about to rush headlong into a hurried plan to bring the new product to market.

Back in early September, BrightRidge cleared its final regulatory hurdle when the Johnson City Commission voted unanimously in favor of the company’s plan to establish a broadband division. At that time, BrightRidge CEO Jeff Dykes was already preaching patience to those in the utility’s service area wondering when they could take the new broadband product for a spin.

“We know our biggest challenge is managing expectations, folks wanting service quicker than we can provide it,” Dykes said. “But an eight-year phased approach is the right way to go. This allows the new broadband division to generate some of its own capital. It allows the Board to carefully monitor implementation, and it allows us to adapt to evolving technology.”

As Dykes said, there are a couple key reasons why BrightRidge is opting to do an eight-year rollout consisting of several phases, the first of which will take place this winter as a mix of fiber optic and fixed wireless service is made available to customers in parts of Johnson City, Jonesborough, a small portion of Washington County and nine separate business parks.

The first reason has to do with rapidly changing technology. Anyone who has purchased a television, a laptop or an iPhone is painfully aware of how quickly those items can become obsolete. By building its broadband infrastructure in phases, the BrightRidge board will have the opportunity to assess changes in technology between each phase to ensure the infrastructure is flexible enough to integrate new technologies as they become available.

A prime example of this can be found in the changes that have occurred during the time BrightRidge has been developing its wireless service. With 5G wireless set to debut in March of next year, BrightRidge’s broadband division officer Stacy Evans said flexibility has been built into the network to accommodate the coming change to wireless communications.

“Over time, if we want to bring that up to a 5G-type technology, we can do that without any kind of major overhauls,” Evans said.

Changes to the way we use the Internet also led BrightRidge to install fiber optic cables instead of the copper wiring that has been prevalent in the broadband industry. While copper wiring can offer fast download speeds, it is very limited when it comes to uploading data to the Internet.

Evans said that hasn’t been an issue until recent years because the Internet used to essentially be a one-way street. But as more people have begun uploading data to cloud storage, the traffic pattern has changed, leading BrightRidge to opt for the faster upload speeds fiber optic cables can facilitate.

“When you look at the changes in the use of broadband, for years it used to be a pull technology,” Evans said. “Anytime you went to the Internet, you were pulling information to your home or business – downloading. That’s changing. As you’re using your mobile phones, you’re taking photos, taking videos, pushing that to the cloud. You’re starting to really push that bandwidth.”

As Dykes reflected on the changes that had to be made to the wireless network due to evolving technologies during the course of a two-year pilot program, he said he expects the flexibility being built into BrightRidge’s broadband infrastructure will be a great strength moving forward.

“We are looking to the future,” Dykes said. “Every technology (Stacy and his team) look at, we want to find out, ‘Okay, where might it go in the near- and the long-term future,’ and position ourselves to where we can be flexible with the technology and change as rapidly as we need to with that technology. As that technology moves forward and improves, I think you’ll see that we can quickly adapt and move with the technology.”

Aside from responding to changes in technology, Dykes hopes the slow rollout will ensure long-term profitability for BrightRidge’s new broadband division.

BrightRidge expects the broadband division to generate $41 million in revenue for the electric division by fiscal year 2030. But by making the product available in phases, BrightRidge has the option to stop expanding the service at any point in the process if revenue doesn’t meet expectations and proceeding with the project is deemed to be unprofitable. Dykes said the wheels were put in motion before he arrived at BrightRidge to create a conservative business approach to introducing broadband service to the marketplace.

With the regulatory hurdles behind them, and the planning phase largely completed, Dykes and Evans are both thrilled to roll up their sleeves and make the new broadband service a reality.

“We have been extremely busy, and it will continue to be (busy) as you start seeing us build (the infrastructure) out,” Evans said. “That’s when you see the fruit of the labor. Now we’re able to open the floodgates and really get moving.”

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