Lenoir City Utilities Board voted unanimously Monday to accept proposals for leasing an 84-mile fiber optic line to interested companies.
The recommendation was brought to the board by Shannon Littleton, LCUB general manager, on behalf of an internal fiber committee.
“There’s 80-85 roughly miles of 228-count fiber that’s around the perimeter of our system,” Littleton said. “We’re utilizing a small percentage of it right now. We plan on using a larger percentage of it in the future. We sat down as a group and decided there’s potentially 100 pair or 200 pair of fiber ... depending on what the board says, that we could put out to the marketplace for a period of time until the electric department decides to take it back for its own use.”
Littleton believes there are data providers that would be interested in utilizing the network to offer services in the area.
Since there have been several requests to use the fiber network, Littleton hoped to bring in bids so the board could decide.
“Anyone in the market can come and lease our fiber from us — wholely, partly, partnerships, however they want to do it,” Littleton said. “I don’t care, but take our fiber and make sure our ratepayers get a good return on their investment for the time period that we’re not going to be utilizing it for the electrical department.”
Littleton believes possible proposals would give LCUB a better understanding of the value of the system.
Joel Garber, who sits on the fiber committee, agreed receiving proposals was the best course of action.
“We have seen a lot of information, we’ve seen a lot of proposals, we’ve talked to a lot of people,” Garber said. “We know the potential of the fiber network we have and we have many options yet to be done.”
One possibility has been LCUB acting as an internet service provider.
A feasibility study on internet service was completed in July through Magellan Advisors, followed by internal meetings. Total investment to provide fiber optics to every location in the LCUB territory could cost $127 million.
“What we think we need to learn more about is what about the large customers that need our fiber and let them provide the services to the public and let them invest the money in the rest of the network that’s required to get it into the home,” Garber said.
Eddie Simpson, while in favor of approving a request for proposals, did ask that the committee bring more information to the board in the future. Simpson asked for a workshop once proposals become available.
Tony Aikens, Lenoir City mayor and board chairman, agreed to schedule a meeting when information was gathered.
LCUB members Jennifer Wampler and Jim Shields were absent.