Affordable internet is on the way in East Tennessee. Some 30,000 of the Knoxville Utilities Board’s customers can expect access to broadband internet in 2022.
After getting final approval to add internet service to its portfolio of offerings earlier this year, KUB is planning which communities will get access to the service first, beginning installation of the necessary fiber and hiring the team to launch the service.
When the network is done, likely not before 2029, every KUB electrical customer will be able to sign up for fiber internet service.
That means 210,000 households in mostly Knox, Grainger, Union and Sevier counties will be able to purchase internet starting at an estimated $65 a month.
Knox News sat down with KUB to find out what customers can expect as broadband service launches in 2022.
“I think it’ll be the fastest internet in Knoxville at a reasonable price,” vice president of fiber and chief technology officer Jamie Davis told Knox News. “I’m excited to deliver on our promises.”
When will my neighborhood get KUB broadband?
Customers in some areas will begin to get access to broadband throughout the second half of the year. Some service may be available as early as July.
KUB anticipates crews will string 1,000 miles of fiber in the next 18 months, enough to reach a quarter of its customer base, or about 30,000-45,000 customers.
Some of the first neighborhoods to get access will be located in Inskip, Fountain City, East Knoxville, South Knoxville and parts of West Knoxville near the Rocky Hill neighborhood.
Davis said the initial rollout will also reach the neighborhoods around nine of the 16 Knox County Community Schools and the neighborhoods surrounding Austin-East, Central and Fulton high schools.
All those neighborhoods will be part of the initial hookup, but the order in which they get service has not been finalized. Customers can use a tool on KUB’s website to find out if their neighborhood is included in phase one.
“Obviously, we are going to be very interested to talk to our customers once it’s available,” said Davis. “We’ll have more targeted outreach in those communities, even down to the homeowner level.”
Downtown Knoxville, with its larger, older buildings and lack of telephone poles, is not part of the initial rollout plan.
KUB also intends to build part of its rural network, stretching from Luttrell through parts of Union and Grainger counties.
“We’ve made a commitment, a promise to the community to serve both the unserved and the underserved,” said Davis. “We’re really pleased with our plan.”
Davis said that the construction could move faster, particularly in rural areas, if some federal grants come through.
“We’re definitely going to go after every grant dollar we can,” said Davis. “But the grant dollars will not influence whether or not we get there. It’s just a matter of when.”
Customers can find more information at kub.org/broadband.
What will construction for KUB broadband include?
Customers can expect to see crews laying lines and constructing facilities in Knoxville and some parts of Union and Grainger counties. Andrew Hmielewski, director of fiber operations for KUB, said his job for the next few months is designing, planning and building the network.
Part of that process involves building large data centers and connecting them to the fiber backbone of the global internet. These data centers are connected to smaller facilities that route traffic through the local network.
Crews will be installing 100,000-pound concrete “huts” to shelter the electronics, servers and equipment that route signals to the internet. It will take three to four months to get the technology up and running and then it will be moved into the huts, Hmielewski said.
While these shelters and data centers are being built, KUB crews are also stringing fiber from electrical poles. Davis said this installation should happen quickly because installing fiber is less dangerous and time consuming than electrical.
“Stringing fiber pole-to-pole happens so quick they don’t even lower the bucket down,” said Davis. “You can lay miles of fiber pretty fast.”
Is KUB hiring for broadband workers?
KUB should begin hiring for positions related to fiber in early 2022. Davis estimated hiring 30-35 people in the next year, including marketing, customer service and installation positions for broadband.
“The good news is we’ve got jobs that don’t require experience,” said Davis. “We’re going to train up folks and provide that opportunity.”
KUB has scheduled a job fair Jan. 13 and 14 at Pellissippi State Community College’s Magnolia Avenue campus. Registration is open now at kub.org/community-job-fair for job seekers.