Chattanooga’s EPB Working To Expand Its Gig Sphere

The United States, in spite of our contributions to the tech world, has tended to lag behind bandwidth speeds compared to other countries. Chattanooga, TN got accolades by jumping onto the high-speed Internet train with EPB, the city’s electric utility, putting on a new Internet service provider hat and offering Internet bandwidth speeds of up to one gigabit per second making it, at that time, the fastest in the world.

EPB even beat Google to the punch, but Google has gotten in on the gig too by starting up Google Fiber in some select cities and have expansion plans. Atlanta and some surrounding municipalities are included in those plans. EPB is also planning on expanding, but current Tennessee law prohibits EPB from expanding beyond its current service area. EPB has filed with the FCC to review the law citing the obligation of the FCC to find and report obstacles that prevent the expansion of broadband Internet access. If they are successful in the law change, that doesn’t mean automatic sprawling. From the Chattanoogan article:

Officials said that if the territorial barrier is removed, “EPB would be able to consider the requests of its neighbors to help them obtain access to broadband Internet services. In considering those requests, EPB will apply the following fundamental principles”:

  • EPB will extend service only into cities and counties that request EPB’s presence.
  • EPB will not extend service outside its electric power service territory to any areas unless it is financially feasible to do so.
  • EPB has never used electric customer dollars to cross-subsidize Internet and video services and never will.

I’ll also note that EPB already has service in the very northern parts of Dade, Walker, and Catoosa Counties, so EPB already has to deal with the Georgia Public Service Commission and would have to work with them and county and city governments to expand “The Gig” further south (perhaps some of our PSC commissioners who are Peach Pundit readers could weigh in on this in the comments). That also means competition with both Ringgold Telephone Company, Chickamauga Telephone Company, and, if they reach far enough down I-75, Dalton Utilities. All three of those companies provide fiber optic service in their respective communities, so maybe there will be leasing or a partnership of some sort….or not.

So, what does all of this mean? Chattanooga has capacity for big things. The Guardian equates it to a deep sea port to service large ships. Something that neighbors don’t have…yet. Now, it’s just a matter of figuring out what to do with that deep sea port. Call in the entrepreneurs! The City of Chattanooga has been promoting itself as a small business incubator. In fact, if you go across the river from downtown proper, there is the Hamilton County Small Business Center. The HCSBC is also home to the Chattanooga Technology Council as well as a few, quite interesting business start ups. The thought is to help aid some of these start ups, a number are tech companies, by leveraging the bandwidth capacity offered by EPB.

However, there is a concern that Chattanooga won’t be able to support the businesses that are being spawned by this local Internet revolution. As quoted by The Guardian:

“It’s better for us if it gets more places in our community and in the country,” says [Chattanooga Mayor Andy] Berke. Chattanooga is too small to support all the business it is creating, he warned: “If there’s no market for what happens on the Gig here, we are doing a lot of work for nothing.” But Berke is hopeful. “The history of the internet and technology has been that you always need more speed and capacity. We have the fastest, cheapest most pervasive internet in the western hemisphere. We believe that gives us an advantage but soon it’s going to be much more the norm and we want to be able to participate in that kind of economy.”

But metro Atlanta isn’t too far away, and it’s possible that Google Fiber will continue to grow out from Atlanta. That, paired with two major fiber optic backbones that run through the Scenic City on down to Atlanta, could serve as a market for Chattanooga-based businesses. There is some rethinking and replanning of data center location. Some businesses are considering how far away physically a backup data center should be (think drivable). The distance between Chattanooga and Atlanta could be a benefit to a company with an Atlanta-based data center looking to locate a hot backup data center closer to the primary.

A continuing dialogue between Atlanta and “The Gig City” with the support of the state would be a boon to our Internet-age economy.


    • xdog says:

      Thomasville has provided internet connectivity through their utilities dept for years and as far as I know, things have gone well. Sure, it takes trained people to install and maintain the systems, but the same is true for moving electricity, water, and sewage.

  1. greencracker says:

    We have slower internet than Chattanooga? Isn’t Georgia Tech sitting on some huge pipe?

    And re fast internet, a year or two ago, there was a (failed but much-fought-over bill) to … prevent cities from rolling out high speed internet if a private company already provides it at such-and-such speed. The rural vote killed it, arguing that in a lot of places, private companies weren’t setting up sufficient connection speeds, that the speed in the bill was ridiculously low, etc. I think a few places, like maybe Camilla, and I don’t know who else, have deployed their own broadband arguing that they got tired of waiting for ATT. OTOH, I think some governments have set up municipal Internet and it turned into a boondoggle. Maybe, I don’t remember so well.

    Anyway, my question is, do y’all foresee any regulatory problem/challenge with a utility (EPB etc) rolling out high-speed internet?

    • saltycracker says:

      The devil might be in the details. The 1 gps plan is $350 month. Most of us get by in the 20 range for under $40. About every personal plan would jump on a 50 for $25.
      The public utility isn’t reported getting near the private offerings indicating their households will absorb the commercial high speed capital costs.
      Then we have bundling where costs overlap – thus power customers might see a slight bump in rates to discount internet.
      A lot to sort out and public companies don’t like competition.

  2. saltycracker says:

    The heavy weights in the business will slash rates for volume and cities like to control, is something there to bid out ?
    I’m in a group in another state that has ATT uverse 200 tv, internet, phone w/LD, for under $80 mo. Can’t touch that in the metro.

  3. skbl17 says:

    I’m not going to go into the merits of municipal broadband, but I thought I’d register and leave a couple of notes:

    – EPB’s gigabit plan is not $350/month, but $70/month. The price drop came on their fourth anniversary in 2013, along with bumps in speeds for their customers.

    – Georgia Tech’s campus internet is not available off campus, and won’t be anytime soon. It would be interesting to see an Atlanta-GT internet partnership of some kind, though.

    – I highly doubt that EPB would run into the same legal problems expanding in this state as they do in Tennessee. As far as I know, Georgia has no statutory restrictions on municipal broadband; the last attempt to implement them (HB282) failed in 2013 on a 74-90 (Democrats + many unhappy rural Republicans) vote in the House. A similar bill in the Senate in 2012 never passed.

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