ROGERSVILLE — HolstonConnect’s efforts to bring broadband services to rural Hawkins County were recognized on Friday as the cooperative hosted 1st District Congresswoman Diana Harshbarger, along with her staff.

HolstonConnect is a non-profit subsidiary of the Rogersville based Holston Electric Cooperative, and one of only a handful of electric cooperatives in the state, with nearly 9,000 subscribers.

Harshbarger visited Holston Electric this past Friday (March 27) to learn more about the co-op’s work in bringing high-speed fiber internet to constituents in her district.

Holston began a five-year fiber deployment in its service area in 2018, after the 2017 passage of state legislation allowing electric cooperatives to provide broadband services within their footprints.

With more than 7,500 connected customers entering 2021, the endeavor shows the buildout will be completed by the end of June, more than two years ahead of schedule.

“We began building our network before the pandemic, because we realized the necessity of fiber communications to improve our members’ quality of life, stimulate economic growth and strengthen our utility system,” said Holston Electric general manager Jimmy Sandlin. “With the introduction of the novel COVID-19 virus, the need was even more highlighted. As one of the early adopters of electric cooperatives reaching unserved members with broadband, many within the Holston service territory were better equipped to handle the pandemic from home.”

Grant opportunities, applied for by Information Technology and Compliance Officer Steve Pittman and Business Development Manager Jennifer Dale, allowed HolstonConnect to reduce its overall buildout cost by $7.3 million and provide service availability to more than 5,100 sites.

Director of Broadband Operations Thomas Powell and Director of Network Administration Jeffery Gunter, have reduced construction expenses by nearly another $9 million. Their cumulative labor has resulted in HolstonConnect’s system coming in $16 million under budget.

“As Holston continues to pursue additional grants, it is Holston’s recommendation that infrastructure must include a Fiber-To-The-Meter Smart Grid component,” Pittman said. “By requiring this element, big box providers who have refused to expand into rural areas will become ineligible for grant funds, allowing cooperatives to reach the 40% of last-mile members who lack availability to high-speed internet.”

Sandlin added, “We appreciate the opportunity to discuss the phases of our project with Congresswoman Harshbarger. We are very appreciative of her visit and hope HolstonConnect was able to provide a model of how successful cooperatives can be in delivering internet to members, just as they provided electricity for the first time in the 1940s.”

Following the discussion, guests visited HolstonConnect’s Network Operation Center, and Harshbarger participated in splicing fiber.

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