Pioneering Work in Fiber Technology:
It’s a Testament of Jackson Energy Authority’s Focus on the Customer.
EPlus Broadband, Jackson Energy Authority’s fiber-to-the-home telecommunications venture, put Jackson on the world’s map when it signed up its first customer in 2004. But the journey to today’s West Tennessee Gigabit City started years earlier with leadership and a vision for Jackson, TN.
A Vision for an Advanced Network Designed for Jackson, TN:
The 1990’s were busy times for the Jackson Energy Authority (JEA), then Jackson Utility Division (JUD). The company made numerous changes that would allow it to become a more technically competitive company. John Williams, President and CEO of JUD at the time said, “As we take advantage of technology, we will not forget we are a people business.” His words remained true as he led the company to becoming Tennessee’s first full fiber-to-the-home city.
With a tradition of good customer service, the company was beginning to get attention from customers to expand into other services, like cable TV. Also, as industrial prospects began raising questions about future communications infrastructure plans for Jackson, JUD realized that telephone and cable companies had no
new infrastructure plans for the city. In an effort to look at other ways to serve its customers, JUD and the City of Jackson initiated plans to enter the telecommunications industry and change Jackson’s economic future.
From Bills to Broadband:
A bill sought by JUD and other municipal utilities before the General Assembly in 1997 allowed municipal electric systems to be in the telecommunications business. The passage of those bills, known as the Jackson Energy Authority Act, amended the Jackson Utility Division into a new entity, the Jackson Energy Authority.
The early 2000’s were some of the busiest and exciting times for the company. JEA was now coming together to improve the quality of life of the community as one local company with six different divisions: electric, gas, propane, water, wastewater and now broadband. JEA launched EPlus Broadband in 2004 building a unique broadband network, owned by the community, to deliver an extraordinary level of service and value to customers.
The keys to its success were the 300+ employees dedicated to serving its customers and community. The company was determined to maintain its reputation for quality and reliable service. It chose fiber for its communications network and trained its employees to become local telecommunications experts.
In the early days, the introduction of EPlus Broadband required many changes and involved the dedication of everyone throughout the company. Customer Service, like several other JEA departments, expanded to respond to the overwhelming response from customers during the roll out. Customer service representatives who took calls about running gas lines, repairing electric outages and connecting water services were now ready to sell cable TV, Internet and telephone services, too.
Enthusiasm for the new broadband service spread throughout the city. Within two months, JEA signed on its 1,000th customer and by the end of 2005 reached 10,000 customers, a huge milestone for the company.
Fiber Brings “Firsts”:
EPlus Broadband was the first FTTH network in Tennessee, and one of the nation’s largest networks at the time, attracting national and international attention, from Brazil to New Zealand — people wanted to see what the company accomplished so successfully. It was the first publicly owned utility in Tennessee to deliver all three services — cable TV, Internet and telephone across one fiber network — on a single bill.
It was also the first to offer high definition programming and digital video recording (DVR) converters and also introduced a new local origination station called EPlusTV 6. Channel 6 continues to provide a breadth of live and local programming including high school football, college basketball games, coverage of government meetings and live debate on topics of interest throughout the community.
In 2004, in a city where Internet speeds ranged from 50–250 Kbps, JEA was the first to offer 6 Mbps to residential customers. “It’s the difference between walking or driving a car to your destination,” Williams would explain. Higher speeds offered through EPlus Broadband grew year after year moving Jackson, TN from 10 Mbps, to 25 Mbps, to 75 Mbps and eventually to the next generation of speed, 1 Gbps.
Fiber for the Future:
In 2015, the company continued to deliver what customers have come to enjoy, and expect, with the launch of its Gigabit Speed City. “JEA’s next step is to offer full Gigabit capacity; this reflects again a commitment to provide service and economic opportunity to every segment of Jackson,” said Jim Ferrell, President and CEO of JEA, in a release about the Gigabit upgrade.
Jackson’s utility history has always reflected a commitment to serve Jackson’s citizens and the continued economic future of the city. The state-of-the-art fiber network that was a vision in the 90’s and a groundbreaking venture in the early 2000’s is essential to Jackson today. Homes have faster speeds than ever before. The fiber infrastructure continues to attract new jobs to the community and offer true broadband connectivity. Jackson’s businesses and industries are players in today’s information age and global economy.
Every day, the JEA team is committed to connecting customers to its fiber optic system across the city. Remaining true to its vision of a community network designed for Jackson, and owned for Jackson, the employees and leadership continue to listen to customers and remain one thing they can count on.