This maps shows the areas where Erwin Utilities plans to expand its Erwin Fiber service. (Contributed photo)

By Allen Rau

While many Erwin residents who are customers of Erwin Utilities currently have access to high-speed internet service, those who don’t may expect that service in the near future.

Erwin Utilities is currently expanding its fiber optic network within their power/electrical footprint and they expect to complete the final phase by the beginning of 2020, according to John Williams, fiber optic engineer for Erwin Utilities.

“Right now we feel like we’re kind of in the home stretch,” Williams said. “Our first phase was right in downtown Erwin and we built for about 1,000 customers … we were looking for about 25 percent of the people we billed (for electricity) to sign up for the service. That was our goal, to make it where it would pay for itself, make money and be sustainable. We quickly reached that goal. In that first area we built, we’re actually at 36 percent rate right now. Since then, we’ve built past a total of about 5,000 customers and our total footprint that we can build to is 9,000.”

Williams added that Erwin Utilities can only build the fiber network in areas where the company already supplies power due to state law.

In order to keep the options simple, there are only two packages available.

“We have simple packages that are fast, they’re inexpensive,” Williams said. “We offer just two speeds: 25 Megabits per second (Mbps), up-and-down, and the second speed is One Gigabit per second (Gig), which is 1000 Mbps, up-and-down. We have the cheapest One Gig internet service in the state.”

Up-and-down translates to symmetric service, which is the upload and download speed for information. The information could be videos uploaded to Facebook, for example, or TV shows downloaded from AppleTV at the same speed.

For a residential package, One Gig service costs $69.95, while 25 Mbps is $49.95. For the business package, One Gig costs $79.95, while 25 Mbps is $59.95. All internet services include WiFi.

To add a voice line, the cost is $24.95 for residential and $34.95 for businesses, with each offering unlimited long distance, caller ID and voicemail.

Cable TV will not be an option with these services, as Williams said the company believes streaming services are the future.

“We decided to do internet and phone service and not cable TV, as we felt like cable TV was on the way out,” he added. “Services like SlingTV, DirecTV now are around the corner.”

While downtown Erwin has already had fiber constructed, the area currently under construction runs along Main Avenue beginning at Food Lion and just north of Fifth Street and would follow Main Avenue up to the Unicoi Animal Hospital. The only area on the west side of I-26 currently being constructed for fiber access is surrounding Harris Hollow Road. Areas scheduled for future installation include the Limestone Cove area, Dry Creek Rd area, Unicoi, Scioto Road, reaching up to Whispering Pines. An interactive map of all current and future construction is available at www.e-u.cc/FiberMap.html.

Williams added that the installation of the fiber network was being implemented by Erwin Utilities employees.

“Since we’ve been doing it for a while we’re getting pretty proficient at it,” he said. “We have our own installation guys; people that come into people’s homes and do the install and connect all your devices up are Erwin Utilities employees. One thing that’s unique about us is we use very little contractors. We’ve pretty much done it with our own crews.”

Erwin Utilities Marketing Coordinator Lynnsey Seagroves said that installation was not the only task the company employees were responsible for.

“John (Williams) actually did all of the design, and (we) saved a lot of money because we didn’t have to contract out pieces of this and a big chunk of that was the design portion which John was able to do himself,” Seagroves said. “So he is the mastermind behind this.”

Seagroves added that customers would not have to sign a contract or pay rental fees for equipment used for the network in customers’ homes.

As Erwin Utilities is also a water, wastewater and power supplier to customers, those who choose to sign up for broadband service would still receive only one bill covering all services, Williams said.

“At this point, internet service is a utility,” he said. “We had the existing infrastructure. We think that municipal broadband is a great thing. We’re heavily invested in our community. We want our community to succeed. We want to see growth.”

Seagroves agrees.

“Our vision is to enhance modern life and help drive local economic development,” she said. “We want to enhance our customers’ lives and we feel that providing broadband absolutely does that. We want our local businesses to have access to this high-speed internet. And we also use it as a marketing tool for businesses who are interested in relocating, or doing a startup in the area.”

For more information on the Erwin Utilities Fiber Expansion visit www.e-u.cc/fiber.