EPB made progress Friday on its efforts to launch smart grid and fiber-to-the-home services with approval of a $66.9 million contract to buy equipment for the systems.
The board of directors authorized a contract with Alcatel-Lucent of France to buy head-end control equipment, telephone switches, satellite dishes and set-top boxes for customer homes, said Katie Espeseth, vice president of EPB’s telecommunications division.
“Now that we’ve chosen the end-to-end equipment provider, we’ll start hiring,” Ms. Espeseth said.
EPB has been filling some telecom division openings from within the company, she said, but is currently interviewing for several positions. The company will hire 45 telecom workers over five years, mostly for technician and engineering openings, she said.
Alcatel-Lucent, headquartered in Paris, has annual revenues of 17.8 billion euros. The company specializes in voice, video and data communications technologies.
EPB will sign the Alcatel contract within a week, Ms. Espeseth said. The Chattanooga utility will pay Alcatel over a five-year period for the equipment, and Alcatel also will provide maintenance services, she said. EPB will begin receiving the equipment in October.
Alcatel’s bid was approximately $201,000 higher than one by Motorola, said EPB President Harold DePriest. However, EPB could not work around licensing conflicts with Motorola, he said.
Motorola was insisting that it would have to sign off on any changes to EPB’s control network, Mr. DePriest said, because of intellectual property rights. EPB would have had to obtain a license for any changes to its network, he said.
“That flies in the face of common sense,” Mr. DePriest said.
A consortium led by Cisco also had bid on the contract, Ms. Espeseth said.
Fiber to the home is EPB’s plan to offer residential cable, telephone and high-speed Internet services. The utility already offers telephone and Internet services to businesses.
The smart grid is a fiber-optic based upgrade to the electric system. EPB officials say the upgrade will allow them to better control the electric system, repair outages faster and work with homeowners to conserve electricity.
EPB plans to begin testing cable services early in 2009 and offer cable after that, starting in high-density population areas, Ms. Espeseth said. EPB officials estimate that within five years they will need to sign up approximately 58,450 households, or 35 percent of 167,000 homes in their service area, to break even on fiber to the home. They anticipate signing up more than that, Ms. Espeseth said, based on market research.