Duirng the March 25 Hawkins County Commission meeting, Sandlin gave commissioners an update on the progress of HolstonConnects, the HEC subsidiary providing broadband services to its customers.
In 2017 after the Tennessee General Assembly passed the Broadband Expansion Act, HEC created HolstonConnect for the purpose of providing high-speed internet, telephone and cable TV services to all of HEC's residential and commercial customers.
"Phase 1 was started near our Rogersville office, where we put our Network Operations Center, and they've also been constructing in Surgoinsville south, which is basically the city of Surgoinsville area, and also Church Hill," Sandlin said. "We're just about to open up some areas in Church Hill for installations."
Sandlin added, "We're also working very hard to secure grant funding and low interest loans because this network could cost close to $45 million after it’s all said and done. We’d like to get as much grant money as possible."
HolstonConnects started building in less rural areas first like Rogersville, Surgoinsville and Church Hill because they knew they wouldn't be able to get grant funding for those areas.
“We didn’t want to build an area that we could get a grant for later because if you build it, you can’t get reimbursed later for money you already spent,” Sandlin said. “At the end of the day, this has to be a business that stands on its own feet. It’s not going to be subsidized by the electric rates. In fact, in 5-10 years this broadband business will likely save us all some money on the electric side.”
How much broadband has already been installed?
HolstonConnects has 110 miles of “active plant” — the fiber and all the connections that make that system work. They’ve built 340 miles of main line, but not all of that has been connected.
"We started in June (of 2018), and here it is March, and it took a few months to ramp up the pace of that construction, but we've got 110 miles active, and we’ve still got 940 still to construct,” Sandlin said. “We’ve got 278 fiber service areas that are in service and 104 still under construction in Phase 1. (Upon completion of Phase 1) this will make service available to about 10,000 customers, which is about one-third of the system.
Phase 2 of the plan has been approved by the HEC board of directors, and engineering is about half done, although Sandlin noted that part of Phase 2 construction already has begun in Russellville.
Anyone interested in enrolling to receive HolstonConnects broadband can go to join.holstonconnect.com and sign up.
“As updates become available, you’ll get updates from our staff that tells you when construction starts (in your community) and then when services are available,” Sandlin said. “It’s a good way to stay up to date with what’s going on with our project.”
HEC by the numbers
Of HEC's 30,000 electric customers, 25,000 are residential customers, although 45 percent of its electricity sales is to commercial customers.
About 40 percent of customers don't have access to a communications company that can provide a high-speed internet connection.
HEC covers 525 square miles mainly in Hawkins and Hamblin counties, although there is some area covered in Greene County as well.
HEC has 2,400 miles of electric distribution line, 75 miles of subtransmission lines connecting to TVA, 50,000 poles and nearly 70 employees.