The packed bleachers in the Phil Moore Park gymnasium and the spillover crowd in an adjacent conference room Thursday evening were enough to put a smile on the face of Johnny McClanahan.
“This turnout exceeded our expectations,” said McClanahan, president and CEO of Lafayette, Tenn.-based North Central Telephone Cooperative, as he surveyed the 300 or so Warren Countians who turned out for an informational meeting on the plans of NCTC and Warren Rural Electric Cooperative Corp. to bring broadband internet service to a “pilot project” area in and around the Boyce community.
The meeting was designed to provide information to residents in the September Lakes subdivision and the Boyce area about the timetable and costs of the rollout of internet service with speeds of up to one gigabit per second.
It also provided some useful information to McClanhan.
“I think we’re going to be successful,” he said. “Based on the turnout tonight, chances are good that we can roll it out to other areas of the county.”
McClanahan noted that even before Thursday’s meeting, the response to NCTC’s entry into Warren County had been positive.
“Several hundred people have already gone to our website and said they would sign up for our service,” he said. “We’ve had people who aren’t even in the test area sign up.”
That hunger for broadband service was evident in the response of “pilot project” area residents such as Cory Glass.
“We’ve been looking forward to this for a long time,” said Glass, who lives on Mount Lebanon Road in the Alvaton area. “I have DSL (digital subscriber line) internet at my house, so anything will be an upgrade.”
Glass and others in his part of the county learned Thursday what that upgrade will cost.
Piggybacking off fiber optic cable run by WRECC, NCTC will offer four levels of internet service: 100-megabit for $64.95 per month, 300-megabit for $74.95, 500-megabit for $84.95 and one-gigabit for $94.95.
NCTC, which signed in 2017 a franchise agreement to provide internet service in Warren County and has already started servicing Alvaton’s Drakes Ridge subdivision and other areas along the Scottsville Road corridor, is also offering telephone service for $34.95 a month.
Dozens of those at Thursday’s meeting signed up for the service, taking advantage of discounts being offered by NCTC. The company waived the $75 installation cost for those who signed up for the one-gigabit service Thursday.
Ron Cummings, Sixth District magistrate on Warren Fiscal Court, said the interest in NCTC’s service is no surprise.
“For every call I’ve gotten from people in the pilot area, I’ve probably gotten 20 from people outside that area,” Cummings said. “There’s a lot of interest.”
Cummings would like to see the service extended beyond the pilot area, but McClanahan said the “take rate” – or percentage of homes signing up for the service – will determine if it goes further.
“We’d like to get to 60 percent of the homes taking it,” he said during an October 2019 event when the NCTC-WRECC partnership was announced.
NCTC is already putting some infrastructure in place to prepare for a broader rollout, making plans to put a Fiber Optics Electronic Hut next to the Alvaton Volunteer Fire Department near Scottsville Road.
That hut, NCTC Marketing Manager Amy Phelps said, “puts us closer to the pilot area and any future expansion if the project is successful.”
The prospects for success could be affected by an added expense for some potential customers that was revealed Thursday.
WRECC’s build-out plan for the pilot project has been broken down into seven categories, based on the amount of fiber needed to reach individual homes.
Homes in some of those categories will be required to pay an “aid-to-construction” fee. For the first six categories, the fee will range from zero to $1,115, according to an information sheet provided at the meeting.
The seventh category is for “unusually long installations” and will require an individual cost estimate.
“One of the key challenges is that there aren’t enough customers per mile to cover the cost in some areas,” said Butch Massey, WRECC’s vice president of engineering and operations.
According to the information sheet, 63 percent of the homes in the pilot area will have an aid-to-construction cost of $100 or less. Those with a fee of $250 or more will have the option of breaking it up into monthly payments.
Massey said construction of lines to the September Lakes area will begin in February, and NCTC should start connecting customers in March.
Total construction in the pilot area is expected to be completed in June.
– More information and updates on progress can be found at the fiberforwarren.com website.
– Follow business reporter Don Sergent on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdailynews.com.