Dickson County’s electric utility is moving closer to offering internet, and officials have customer cost estimates as well as possible initial service areas in mind, based on talks at a recent county commission meeting. 

Dickson Electric System General Manager Darrell Gillespie said in a recent statement “it is our desire to provide additional services that keep dollars local” but told the county mayor and commissioners that DES would “need all the support we can possibly get” if it decides to move forward. 

“I think sometime in late summer or early fall, we will be making critical decisions as to whether we continue to move forward, or what path we take,” Gillespie told the commission as well as school board members who joined the meeting online. 

Gillespie said the utility is seeking grant money as part of the project and added there are “several more hurdles we would have to go through for approval.” 

The DES Power Board votes on DES actions in addition to the utility’s management decisions. 

Gillespie told the commission and school board that DES already has fiber optic cable set up throughout its service area, which includes 36,000 customers in Dickson County as well as Hickman, Cheatham, Houston and Montgomery counties. The 100 miles of cable was set up in 2010 as part of DES’ switch to Advanced Metering Infrastructure, or AMI, which allowed DES to monitor and read its meters remotely. 

“We recognized at that time that having an advanced communication system could reap a lot of benefits beyond the things we were doing on the electric system side,” Gillespie told the commissioners. 

Five years later, DES offered some of its excess fiber optic network to the Dickson County School District, Gillespie said. DES partnered with Education Networks of America to provide network connectivity to the schools.The Power Board approved the expenditure of $100,000 to add additional fiber to the existing network to reach each of the individual schools. ENA leased the fiber network and equipment space in the DES network center to provide managed broadband services to the school systems.

“It was kind of a building block to better serve the communities we provide electricity to,” Gillespie said. 

Pricing estimate, first connections 

County School Board Chairman Kirk Vandivort echoed the sentiments from Gillespie that in today’s world — particularly with people increasingly working and learning remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic — that “broadband is basically a utility.” 

Vandivort asked what the cost would be for customers and where the possible DES broadband might first be implemented. 

Gillespie said DES leadership is still analyzing the price structure and awaiting feedback from its survey. Still, he estimated a cost of about $50 per month for around 250 megabits per second, or mbps, for a customer. He said the cost could be about $70 for a gigabit of service, which Gillespie described as a “phenomenal amount of broadband speed.” 

According to a report published online by The Internet and Television Association, the average broadband speed in America is 93.98 Mbps.

As for the cost to DES, Gillespie said it’s about $1,200 to $1,500 to “build to that customer.” 

 “We are talking about starting a brand new business with a lot of infrastructure. There are a lot of capital costs with a business like that,” Gillespie said. 

He anticipated it would take about four years to build out the internet service to all the customers who are asking for broadband. 

“We really feel like broadband…is an essential service like electricity is,” Gillespie told the commission. 

Related: Will Dickson Electric System provide internet service? Customers could decide.

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