A Gig at the Center of the Universe: Trenton Tel Announces Rollout

Chattanooga makes a big deal out of being “Gig City” because of its high internet speed and that’s understandable. It must be rough on a city’s ego being right next door to the center of the universe. Comparisons are inevitable. Yes, living in Dade County’s shadow, on top of having as your only other claim to fame being the one place in America where grownups routinely say “Choo-Choo,” is enough to make any city a little desperate for chest-beating opportunities.

So it seems a little cruel to take the gig thing away from Chattanooga but there you are: Trenton Telephone Company will be rolling out one-gigabit-per-second internet service in Dade County by the end of July or beginning of August.

“It’s just us trying to provide the best possible service and speed for our customers,” said Audrey Clark, marketing director of Trenton Telephone.

Ms. Clark made the same kind of no-big-deal announcement of the coming gig capacity on July 7 at the regular monthly meeting of the Dade County Commission, at which point an audience member pointed out that some much bigger towns around here, such as Knoxville, Tenn., don’t have gig yet.

Dade will beat them to it but Ms. Clark can’t say just when yet. She doesn’t have a precise launch date but is waiting for word from the engineers and technicians who are busy installing the necessary new equipment around the county. “That all has to happen and then there’ll be a little testing timeframe, and then we’ll roll out,” she said.

Not all parts of the county will immediately have access to the higher speeds, warned Ms. Clark, just areas that already have fiber optics installed. Downtown Trenton is, of course, pretty well fixed, as well as Edgewood, Piney, New Salem on Lookout Moutain, parts of Worley Chapel and Highway 301 on Sand Mountain, portions of Rising Fawn and sections of Slygo. If you’re in an unserved neighborhood, don’t worry, Trenton Telephone will continue expanding fiber optics as it did DSL before this, and landline telephones back in the early days.

Fiber optic infrastructure, explained Ms. Clark, is at the heart of the expanded television service Trenton Telephone has been struggling to expand throughout Dade for the past five years, as well as to the higher-speed internet service. “If you give fiber to an area, then that gives the customer the opportunity to have fiber internet service as well as, and/or TV service,” she said. “We’ve been trying to work toward a gig since the first of the year, but it’s always been in the back of our minds.”

In fact, says Ms. Clark, Dade would have had gig sooner had it not been for the tornadoes of 2011. “The rollout of fiber optics was postponed because the tornado came through and just ripped up everything,” she said. “Phone poles, phone lines, all of that had to be repaired. When we finally got everything back up and restored and replaced from the tornado, it was at that point that the focus was back to building out the fiber.”

Trenton Telephone hooked up its first fiber optics customer in late 2012 and has been expanding the service ever since. Now, finally, the fiber optics infrastructure is in place to offer gig speed, and now, finally, The Planet gets around to asking:

What does that mean?

A gig, or gigabit, is a unit of speed equal to 1000 megs, or megabits, explained Ms. Clark. Trenton Telephone’s base residential speed now is 30 mbps, or megabits per second. After the rollout, these 30-meg residential customers will see their internet speeds more than triple to 100 mbps—and that’s without purchasing upgraded service. Business customers will automatically go from 30 to 60.

So why pay for even faster service? “Generally, local offices work real well on 30,” said Ms. Clark. But bigger companies, such as the manufacturers at the Dade Industrial Park, have inquired about the faster service, she said, and residentially, she expects gamers and other high-internet-speed lovers to bite, too. “Some people just like to have the fastest and the best of anything that’s available,” she said.

Trenton Telephone has worked out a price structure for the higher-speed internet packages but prefers to wait to announce them until a launch date is announced. Ms. Clark promised to keep The Planet informed.

This expansion of modern technology up Dade’s mountains and ridges and through Dade’s pastures and woodlands is part of a continuum that began with a few open phone lines strewn around downtown Trenton in the 1920s. When Bill Tatum bought Trenton Telephone in 1950, he had 60 customers. He and partners obtained an REA (Rural Electrification Authority) loan to extend coverage throughout Dade and extend it they did, until telephones were as ubiquitous in the county as another new-fangled convenience, indoor plumbing.

Bill Tatum died in 2011 and Trenton Telephone is now run by a board of directors on which his four children sit and of which his widow, Frances Tatum, is president. Since the turn of this century, with the advent of cellphones, they’ve seen landline demand decline sharply. The little utility company turned its attention instead to providing DSL internet service in Dade. Now that that push is over—“The county is as covered with DSL as it probably ever will be,” said Ms. Clark—Trenton Tel strives to extend fiber optics over the county.

“It will take a lot of time, a lot of work, a lot of money,” said Ms. Clark

How much money? Ms. Clark had no figures to offer but knows it’s been expensive. “I can hear the moans and groans,” she said. “I don’t know if we’ll recoup it in this lifetime.”

But she and her company are excited about the coming upgrade, and Ms. Clark thinks it needs a name. The Planet suggested: “Gig Town? Gig Village? Gig Hamlet?” And as an afterthought now offers: “A Gig at the Center of the Universe,” as being more courteous than “Get Over It, Chattanooga.”

But it is Ms. Clark’s own suggestion that is more apt to stick, and that is:

“The Independent State of Gig.”

#TrentonTelephone #RobinFordWallace #DadeCountynewspaper

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