One of the first municipal utilities in the US to enter the fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) domain a decade ago added new BSS intelligence into its service this week, with the goal of appealing to more customers with integrated billing for a wide range of services.
Jackson Energy Authority (JEA), which launched its FTTH network in Jackson, Tenn. in 2004, upgraded the business support system for its EPlus Broadband division to ETI Software Solutions ' Overture platform. JEA has used ETI's software in its network since launch, but only to provision and bill for video and data services, says Ben Lovins, senior vice president of telecommunications for JEA. Overture will manage all BSS functions -- from order entry to rating to service activation to billing -- for all triple-play services and also tie into the company's utility billing platform to provide a single statement, he says.
Since JEA provides a plethora of utility services -- electricity, gas, water, wastewater, and propane -- in addition to its triple-play offering, the ability to offer customers a single bill could be a draw -- though Lovins admits some customers might also balk at seeing a bill that could total several hundred dollars.
For ETI, the primary challenge was integrating all the data and records from JEA's legacy telephony billing system into Overture, said John McBurney, program manager for ETI. About 50% of ETI's customers are utilities, and the balance are telcos and cable operators, said Justin Nevius, account manager for ETI.
"We see a huge uptick with the utility and electric co-op market," Nevius says. "We have lots of customers that are realizing they're not integration experts."
Indeed, many BSS and OSS vendors that have traditionally targeted telecom service providers are eyeing new or expanded opportunities in the utility sector, says Tim McElligott, senior consulting analyst at Stratecast, a division of Frost & Sullivan -- and they're right to, given the parallels to the telco transition of a decade and more ago.
"The whole utility industry is about to go through what telecom went through -- making the change from being a regulated provider of commodity services to being a customer-centric provider of services on a transformed network," McElligott says. "The experience that the telcos and their vendors went through means a lot and can help utilities as they go through the same thing."
JEA's FTTH network passes about 35,000 potential customers and currently has about 18,000, Lovins says. The utility is now in the process of upgrading the FTTH network to offer gigabit services, as well as introducing technologies on the utility side that will allow for functions such as smart metering, voltage reduction and analytics, he says.
"The only reason we don't yet offer a gig is that we started so early," Lovins says.
JEA is hopeful that its evolving network will have an impact on economic development, attracting and retaining high-tech talent and businesses to the region. The company recently worked with the Tennessee Valley Authority to certify and prep a site for an enterprise data center, already looped with fiber, in hopes of attracting a company like Google to the area, he says.
"We're trying to go from cotton to the cloud," Lovins says.
— Jason Meyers, Utility Communications Editor, Light Reading