KUB, Knox County Commissioner debate pros and cons of broadband plan

Local News

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A Knox County leader hopes to put a pause on Knoxville Utilities Board’s massive broadband proposal. Commissioner Justin Biggs sent a letter to City Council and the KUB board of commissioners on Thursday, essentially asking them to postpone a vote on the proposal until a workshop can be held between city, county, and KUB officials.

In his letter, Biggs argues a lot of money will be spent on a service most KUB customers can already access.

“The initiative would be spent on areas where 98 percent of the public already have three distinct options for broadband service,” Briggs wrote.

KUB President and CEO Gabriel J. Bolas II rebutted that statistic. In a response letter, Bolas cited 60% of their customers have just one option for an internet service provider. He also noted many customers, living outside Knox County, have no options.

KUB’s plan would offer broadband access to all their more than 210,000 electric customers, including those in surrounding areas, like Sevier and Union counties. The utility provider has pledged faster, and less expensive, service than what’s offered by current providers.

We’ve reported KUB’s plan to modernize their grid and offer broadband to more than 210,000 electric customers. It includes more than $700 million in spending over 10 years, some of which would be paid for by a rate increase.

“This is a tax increase for all KUB electric ratepayers for a service that is provided by the private sector. I think there can be considerably better proposals compared to the KUB plan,” Briggs wrote.

KUB officials have acknowledged a 9% rate increase over three years; however, they’ve pledged stabilized rates for the following seven years. They also estimate the increase would result in an average of $10.80 added to a residential customers’ monthly bill. They also say customers who opt out of internet service will benefit from the upgrades, citing more reliable power and safe operations. The revenue generated from the added services will, over time, offset some of the costs to electric-only customers, according to the power provider.

KUB’s board of commissioners approved the plan last week. Knoxville City Council is set to consider the proposal June 29. Bolas wrote he looks forward to council’s consideration.

“Over the past year, KUB has conducted a robust review of this issue, and has engaged elected officials in regular communication about our work.

We have submitted our plans for review to both the State Comptroller and TVA for review and both have found the plans to be feasible.

We believe our plans are solid and in the best interests of our customers. We look forward to council’s consideration of our proposal.”

Gabriel J. Bolas II, KUB president and CEO

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