Holston Connect, two years ahead of schedule, visited by Congresswoman

ROGERSVILLE, Tenn. ̶ HolstonConnect, LLC., a wholly-owned, non-profit subsidiary of Holston Electric Cooperative, Inc. is a trailblazer in rural broadband in Tennessee, and one of only a handful of electric cooperatives in the state with nearly 9,000 subscribers. The co-op’s efforts were recognized on Friday as the cooperative hosted 1st District Congresswoman Diana Harshbarger, along with her staff.

Congresswoman Harshbarger was invited to learn more about the co-op’s successful 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 complete by the end of June, more than two years ahead of schedule.

General Manager Jimmy Sandlin addressed a small gathering, all agreeing the introduction of high-speed fiber services to rural portions of Hawkins and Hamblen counties has been key to transforming the rural space.

“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,” Sandlin said. “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, including the Connect America Fund, USDA Appalachian Regional Commission POWER grant, Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development broadband grant and more have allowed Holston to reduce their overall buildout cost by $7.3M and provide service availability to more than 5,100 sites. The foresight and expertise provided by Director of Broadband Operations Thomas Powell and Director of Network Administration Jeffery Gunter, have reduced construction expenses by nearly another $9M. Their cumulative labor has resulted in HolstonConnect’s system coming in $16M 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,” noted Pittman. “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.”

“We appreciate the opportunity to discuss the phases of our project with Congresswoman Harshbarger,” added Sandlin. “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 1940’s.”

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

For additional information about HolstonConnect, visit www.holstonconnect.com