The new fiber optic lines will also give TVA "the potential to make fiber capacity available to help local communities in rural areas attract and retain jobs," Johnson said.Skaggs said design work for the new fiber optic lines should begin this summer on areas most in need. TVA currently has about 3,500 miles of fiber optic lines along more than 16,000 miles of transmission lines, TVA spokesman Jim Hopson said.

But the capability and breadth of the fiber optic network needs to be improved to handle growing demand for data and communication interactions, especially as the federal utility moves to more distributed power generation from many smaller sources of generation and begins to price its products at different rates during different times of the day and season."We need to replace that network to meet the need for bandwidth and distribute new energy resources into the system," TVA President Bill Johnson said.

The TVA CEO said the utility doesn't plan to offer fiber optic services to individual homes or businesses or to immediately venture into telecommunications services. But working with TVA municipalities and cooperatives, TVA's fiber optic initiative could help rural communities get better telecom connections, Johnson said."When a business considers locating or expanding in the Valley, broadband connectivity is a basic operating requirement whether it's a big business or a small startup," he said. "But all across the Valley we hear from public officials, business leaders, local power companies that the communities continue to struggle to get this vital service."

Greg Williams, general manager of Appalachian Electric Cooperative and chairman of the Tennessee Valley Public Power Association, praised TVA's expansion of its fiber optic network and said it "could lead to one of the greatest economic impacts that we have ever seen.

In Chattanooga, EPB also launched its fiber optic network eight years ago to install smart grids and better power delivery. But the fiber capability also allowed EPB to offer video, internet and telephone services to its customers, which EPB has done to attract more than 90,000 local telecom customers so far and that number continues to grow.The new fiber optic line could carry telecommunications for other uses, but Johnson said it is not his intent to compete with telephone, cable TV or other telecommunications companies with the new service.