Competition for cable television and high-speed telecommunication services is heating up with EPB’s imminent rollout of broadband Internet for homes.
Broadband availability — which President-elect Barack Obama says he wants to increase nationwide — is critical not only for entertainment but for workforce development, said Colman Keane, a senior strategic planner for EPB’s communications division.
“The U.S. is 15th in the world and Tennessee is 37th of the 50 states in having broadband available for education,” he said. “Broadband in Chattanooga is a critical infrastructure.”
Along with conventional dial-up telephone connection to the Internet, companies in Chattanooga also offer DSL — “digital subscriber line” — which uses telephone lines to transmit Internet data, and broadband, which uses fiber-optic cables. Broadband offers information transmission rates of about 30 megabytes per second while DSL usually offers about 10.
By March, several hundred EPB electric customers in downtown Chattanooga, Red Bank and East Ridge will be testing the utility’s fiber-to-the-home service, said Katie Espeseth, vice president of the EPB’s communications division. Later in the year, more households will be able to subscribe to the service, and all EPB customers will have access to the service in five years, part of a $220 million fiber-to-home initiative by the city-owned utility, she said.
AT&T, which already offers DSL service in the Chattanooga region, also will upgrade its broadband service sometime in the next year and a half, officials said.
During his presidential campaign, Mr. Obama called for introducing broadband to places where it is currently not available. The president-elect’s Web site addresses the need for a modernization of the nation’s communications system but offers few specifics.
“As a country, we have ensured that every American has access to telephone service and electricity, regardless of economic status, and Obama will do likewise for broadband Internet access,” his Web site states.
An increase in broadband availability in Tennessee could generate $2.4 billion in economic impact, including the creation of nearly 50,000 jobs, according to a study by Connected Nation, a nonprofit organization that promotes broadband Internet access.
Broadband already is available to 85 percent of Tennessee residents from cable television providers, said Stacey B. Briggs, president and executive director of the Tennessee Cable Telecommunications Association.
“The cable industry has been upgrading our networks for over a decade and spent over a billion dollars to bring the most advanced broadband services in the world right here to Tennessee,” Mrs. Briggs said.
EPB not only will add to residential broadband availability, but will provide businesses with important access as well, Mr. Keane said. Health care providers will be able to use the network to check on homebound patients or monitor patients’ vital signs from home, he said.
Comcast already is providing solutions to local businesses through its broadband network, said Valerie Gillespie, vice president of Comcast of Chattanooga.
“We’re continuing to invest in the community,” Mrs. Gillespie said during a recent meeting of business leaders with reporters and editors at the Times Free Press. “We will constantly be upgrading services.”
Even as EPB prepares to take on Comcast, Ma Bell is sizing up the Tennessee market. On Dec. 22, AT&T launched U-verse in Nashville, said spokesman Bob Corney. U-verse is a cable television service delivered over a broadband Internet connection. AT&T officials have been tight-lipped on when they will offer the service in Chattanooga, although it could be available in the next year and a half.
“Consumers are the big winners,” Mr. Corney said. “Companies are competing in a way that leads to better services and better products.”
Video: AT&T to bring video service to areaAt a Chattanooga Times Free Press editorial board meeting Wednesday, Gregg Morton, president of AT&T Tennessee, and Steve Sitton, regional president of AT&T Southeast Wireless Operations, discussed their company's $400 million investment in video technology in Tennessee.