Broadband for electric utilities debated at TACIR

A Tennessee cable industry lobbyist asserted Wednesday that government-owned electric utilities like Chattanooga’s EPB are failing with their offerings of lightning-fast broadband service to customers, according to the Times-Free Press.

But John Farris’ claim later prompted Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, to charge he was peddling “lies” on behalf of investor-owned companies like Comcast and AT&T who fear competition in the rural market.

The firms are battling renewed efforts by municipally owned utilities to extend their broadband Internet offerings and other telecommunication services outside their service areas.

Farris, chief lobbyist and attorney for the Tennessee Cable and Telecommunications Association, made his assertion during a four-hour-long hearing by members of the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations.

EPB President Harold DePriest disputed Farris’ assertion. Just last week, DePriest announced Chattanooga, which first won international recognition as the country’s first “Gig City” for its 1-gigabit broadband service, announced EPB will now offer a 10-gigabit service.

“Last year, we made $130 million from communications,” DePriest said. “Communications paid the electric system $30 million,” DePriest said.

He said EPB gave Chattanooga and Hamilton County governments a combined $20 million, some $8 million of which went for in-lieu-of-tax payments. EPB’s fiber operation, a stand-alone service which started about five years ago, once had about $90 million in bonded indebtedness. It’s down to about $36 million, DePriest said.