BrightRidge opens 28 Free Public Wi-Fi locations; Bowmantown broadband met with strong demand


JOHNSON CITY – BrightRidge Broadband is now live with 28 high-speed free Public Wi-Fi locations while also initiating fiber broadband service to the previously unserved areas of Bowmantown and Pleasant Valley/Key Mills in Washington County.

The $3 million project was funded with $2.46 million from six Tennessee Emergency Broadband Emergency Broadband Grants, awarded in late August by the Tennessee Department of Economic & Community Development. The project was completed on time and on budget in just under four months.

“Throughout the pandemic, our community and our Board of Directors placed a huge responsibility on BrightRidge to do all we can to assist our region in responding to a dramatically different reality where success at work and in the classroom largely depends on the availability of high-speed internet,” BrightRidge CEO Jeff Dykes said. “Lighting 28 high-speed Free Public Wi-Fi locations is a major step in addressing availability. At the same time, because Bowmantown and Pleasant Valley were completely unserved, those areas were eligible for grant support to extend high-speed fiber to the premise in these locations.”

The project required installation of 64.92 miles of new fiber optic to serve 28 schools and community buildings in Washington and Sullivan counties as well as the communities of Bowmantown and Pleasant Valley/Key Mills. In addition to service equipment at each Public Wi-Fi location, the grant paid for fiber optic drops at every home in the unserved area.

“We have seen very strong customer response to having high-speed broadband Internet in this area,” BrightRidge Chief Broadband Officer Stacy Evans said. “The take rate is currently about 50 percent. We have seen throughout the pandemic the critical importance of having high-speed broadband available, and we continue to look for additional grant opportunities to enhance our ongoing phased rollout.”

Research published earlier this year by the Quello Center at Michigan State University found major learning impacts for those students without broadband, including lower grade point averages, stunted digital skillsets and lengthier times required to complete homework.

Similarly, the Tennessee Department of Economic & Community Development found 17 percent lower wages for those without “baseline” digital skills, while the availability of telehealth services provided over the Internet lowered hospital admissions by 25 percent and hospital length of stay by 59 percent.

BrightRidge Broadband has built a triple redundant broadband network with three connections to the Internet backbone near Washington D.C. and Atlanta. Through this network, BrightRidge Broadband delivers nation leading service of up to 10 Gigabits per second. Further, BrightRidge Broadband does not have data caps, nor does it require long-term service contracts.

“There isn’t another service like this in the country,” Evans said. “Through these grant awards, we were able to push this same type of service out to the hardest to reach customers in rural areas. And we could not have done that without the Gov. Bill Lee administration implementing this grant program in record time, or without the support and trust of our local legislative delegation that BrightRidge Broadband could get the job done.”

To access the free Public Wi-Fi system, customers can park at any of the listed facilities, pull up the connections tab on their laptop or mobile device, and click “Public Wi-Fi” to connect.

Under the terms of the grant awards, BrightRidge will provide free community Wi-Fi at 1 Gb capacity for at least 12 months, re-evaluating community conditions at that time. BrightRidge places the cost of the service at $268,464 annually. Each free Public Wi-Fi location can support up to 512 connections at one time. Actual service speed will depend on the capabilities of each customer’s personal device.

Schools offering free Wi-Fi on the grounds include Science Hill High School, Indian Trail Intermediate School and South Side Elementary in Johnson City.
Further, three Sullivan County schools in the BrightRidge Broadband service area are provided with the service, including Miller Perry Elementary, Colonial Heights Middle School and Mary Hughes School in Piney Flats.

And, 16 Washington County school facilities also offer the service, including; Grandview Elementary, Gray Elementary, Lamar Elementary, Ridgeview Elementary, Asbury Optional High School, Fall Branch Elementary, Jonesborough Middle School, Midway Center, South Central Elementary, Daniel Boone High School, David Crockett High School, both the old and new Boones Creek Elementary schools, Jonesborough Elementary, Sulphur Springs Elementary and West View Elementary.

Community centers offering free BrightRidge Community Wi-Fi on the grounds include the Appalachian Fair Grounds in Gray, Bowmantown Ruritan, Limestone Ruritan, Leesburg Ruritan, Oak Glen Community Center and Telford Ruritan.

About BrightRidge

BrightRidge is a publicly owned electric utility serving 83,671 customers in Washington, Sullivan, Carter and Greene counties. It is the 10th largest local power company in the Tennessee Valley Authority service area. BrightRidge Broadband, a division of BrightRidge, offers nation-leading 10GB symmetrical fiber-to-the-premise services to more than 30,000 locations in its service area.