SEPT. 14-- Tennessee Valley Electric Cooperative members get to decide Saturday if they want the not-for-profit company to take a step toward getting into the internet business.
A vote on a proposed change to bylaws is scheduled, although even if it passes, that does not automatically mean internet for all TVEC members – this is but the first move in what could be a long process.
Letters inviting members to the annual TVEC membership meeting this Saturday, Sept. 16 went out weeks ago in members’ monthly bills, urging members to come vote on the proposal. Registration for the meeting to be held at the Hardin County High School auditorium is from 1- 3 p.m., with the business meeting to follow.
Prohibited by law prior to Gov. Bill Haslam’s signing of the Broadband Accessibility Act in mid-May, electric cooperatives can now provide the infrastructure if their respective members approve.
Although some have found the language regarding the proposed change to TVEC bylaws cryptic, TVEC General Manager Gerald Taylor said it’s standard proposed language from the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association.
“TVEC is owned by the members, and we’re not going to do anything to upset our members,” Taylor said, when asked about the new language and right-of-ways.
First, Taylor stressed, the proposed change, if passed, won’t affect existing members, only new members. The bylaw change will take effect immediately if passed. TVEC will be required to go to each current member later and request that they sign a new a new easement form including the new language if the proposed change is passed.
He added that the board, on its own, cannot make changes to the bylaws; only a majority vote of a quorum of members can, which is the lesser of 2 percent of all members or 100 members. With about 16,000 active TVEC members, that means the vote can be decided by a majority of as few as 100 members.
The proposed change is to Article I, Section 13 of the bylaws. The current section allows for easements over land owned by members for, “the transmission and distribution lines of the Cooperative,” restricting those lines to provide electrical power only.
The proposed change is, “for the furnishing of electric service and for any other service permitted by law.”
“The only two things electric cooperatives are allowed to furnish by law are electric power, and now, broadband internet infrastructure,” Taylor said.
Just as TVEC runs a line from power poles to each member’s house to provide electric power, TVEC will now – if the proposed bylaw change is passed - be allowed to run a fiber optic cable to each member’s house to provide internet.
The law allowing electric cooperatives to engage in providing internet came about as a way to provide the nearly 834,000 Tennesseans who live in rural areas that don’t have broadband access to the service.
Electric cooperatives are seen as one solution because they already maintain distribution infrastructure in rural areas, and have already started building fiber optic line infrastructure to their substations to make it easier to read meters and monitor electric usage.
Taylor notes that even if the proposed change passes Saturday, there are still several hurdles before members can get internet through TVEC.
By law, electric cooperatives can run the main infrastructure, but the business of actually providing the internet service and maintaining the lines and equipment inside homes must be through a subsidiary company. Plans call for the subsidiary to be wholly owned by TVEC, but the subsidiary can’t be financed by the cooperative.
Taylor said TVEC conducted a cost and feasibility study on what it would cost the subsidiary company to reach every member and provide internet service, and it came to around $50 million.
“It can be done, but it has to be done in a smart, cost efficient manner. This has to be well thought-out, be manageable with a full business plan, because there is no option for failure,” Taylor said.
For questions on Saturday’s vote, contact TVEC at 731-925-4916.