published Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

Fastest on the web

In the race for Internet speed, Chattanooga claimed the nation’s fastest broadband service Monday when EPB launched America’s first gigabit broadband service.

The new Internet link is more than 200 times faster than the average web connection speed in the United States and could give the Scenic City an edge in growing and recruiting data-based businesses.

“We’re setting a standard that most of the world won’t catch up to for probably another 10 years,” Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield said during an announcement of the new service at EPB headquarters.

EPB officials acknowledge there isn’t much, if any, demand yet for such Internet speeds. The $350-a-month initial price for the service is unlikely to immediately attract any of the more than 100,000 homes EPB now serves with its fiber optic connections.

  • photo
    Staff Photo by Patrick Smith/Chattanooga Times Free Press A fiber-optic connection box sits during a news conference on September 13, 2010, announcing that Chattanooga based, Electric Power Board will offer a 1 Gigabit Internet service, the fastest in the United States. The connection will be 200 times faster than the average broadband speed in America.

“Those that say there is no demand for this service right now are absolutely right, but they won’t be for long,” EPB President Harold DePriest said. “We’re already seeing businesses use a huge amount of bandwidth and as this service becomes available we’re going to see the demand for speed continue to grow.”

As the first U.S. city to achieve the gigabit speed mark, Chattanooga gains the bragging rights as the fastest city on the Information Highway — a claim that local officials hope will entice more data, video and technology companies to consider locating in the Scenic City.

"We can never overestimate the amount of bandwidth that will be needed in the future," said jon Kinsey, a Chattanooga developer and former mayor who is working with local entrepreneurs to study ways to capitalize on the faster broadband service. "What EPB has set up gives us an opportunity as a community to get into a whole new realm of business growth."

Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Federation, said there probably is too little demand for gigabit service today for the telephone or cable television giants to pursue the expense of gigabit service."

“Chattanooga definitely is ahead of the curve,” Atkinson said. “It’s like they are building a 16-lane highway when there is a demand for only four at this point. The private companies probably can’t afford to get that far ahead of the market.”


EPB can afford the faster connection because the utility’s new video, phone and Internet services are being built on fiber-optic lines being laid across its 600-square-mile territory for the utility’s electricity grid.

The city-owned utility borrowed $220 million two years ago to pay for a smart electricity grid built on new fiber-optic lines throughout the city. Those costs are being paid by nearly 170,000 electricity customers of EPB, which is installing smart meters on homes and businesses over the next couple of years.

The smart grid and smart meters allow EPB to remotely read customer meters on a continuous basis and better control its electric service.

EPB’s plans were expedited and expanded last year when the utility landed a $111 million federal stimulus grant for smart meters. The stimulus funds are not being used directly on the faster broadband service, which EPB sells in competition with Comcast cable service and AT&T’s U-verse Internet protocol TV.

With virtually unlimited capacity, those same fiber-optic lines also allow EPB to offer television, telephone and Internet services in competition with cable TV and telephone companies in the area. But because EPB is building a network with fiber-optic connections all the way to the home, the utility is able to offer far faster connections than the copper wire or older cable connections used by AT&T, Comcast and others.


DePriest said EPB built its fiber-optic network to handle a gigabit-per-second service and a new device developed by Alcatel-Lucent — called an 0221H ONT — now allows EPB to boost its speed cap from 150 megabits per second to the first gigabit-per-second service in any U.S. city. Only Hong Kong and a few cities in Europe can now match that speed, DePriest said.

Christopher Mitchell, director of the Telecommunications as Commons Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, said Chattanooga’s municipal utility has done what hundreds of cities wanted Google to do when the computer giant offered to bring gigabit service to some U.S. community.

“Earlier this year, Google announced they were going to build a 1 Gbps network and several of the largest telecom companies in the country laughed at them, saying it was too difficult,” Mitchell said. “Almost one year later, Chattanooga has built such a network before Google decided with whom to partner.”

Mitchell said with EPB’s announcement, entrepreneurs in rural Tennessee “will pay far less for far greater speeds than even those in Silicon Valley.”

EPB Chairman Joe Ferguson said faster broadband service “is going to be the base of the technology advances of the future” and allow companies to locate outside of more expensive cities.

Last week, HomeServe USA announced plans to locate a 140-employee call center in Chattanooga, in part due to Chattanooga’s faster broadband service.

“They told us we probably have more Internet fire power in a home in Chattanooga than they have in their whole operation in Miami,” Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey said.

Ramsey said the faster Internet links from EPB should not only attract more technology companies to Chattanooga but also aid in long-distance learning programs in the schools and remote medical services in the area.

Dr. James Busch, one of 10 physicians with Diagnostic Radiology Consultants and head of Specialty Networks, LLC in Chattanooga, said faster Internet links will allow for more remote reading of increasingly detailed medical images.

Busch said his company already uses the 100 megabit service from EPB to help handle nearly 8 million medical images a year “and we definitely would be interested” in the new gigabit service. The faster service allows radiologists, pathologists and other diagnostic physicians to quickly assess a patient’s MRI or other images remotely from anywhere with fast broadband service.

“This allows us to practice better medicine and save on the costs of medical care,” Busch said.

Robert Philips, executive director of the Chattanooga Technology Council, said Chattanoogans need to identify ways EPB’s faster service can be utilized.

“Just like with smart phones, we need to find ‘the killer apps’ that will capitalize on this capability,” Philips said.

Contact Dave Flessner at or 423-757-6340. Follow him on Twitter at

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Tax_Payer said...

Now make the city of Chattanooga WIFI!

September 14, 2010 at 12:32 a.m.
whatever said...

Bit of a different problem, I think we might want to wait till the FCC settles some things out with the available spectrum.

September 14, 2010 at 12:53 a.m.
sideviews said...

To those who say the federal stimulus plan hasn't had any impact on the economy, look at EPB. Aided by an $111 million stimulus grant for smart meters, EPB is rolling out the biggest municipal smart meter program in the United States and piggybacking on that to offer the fastest Internet in the United States for all Chattanoogans, even those in rural areas of the region. If nothing else, the national attention generated for Chattanooga as a leading technology city is worth millions of dollars. This is a classic example of building one technology upon another and taking advantages of the synergy and development motives of a municipal utility to advance a city. Isn't it interesting that a city-owned utility is willing to do what AT&T, Verizon, Google, Comcast, Charter Communications and other private telecoms are not. Next time someone tells you government doesn't work, remember to cite EPB's fiber optic system and the national acclaim it is bringing to a medium size city in the southern Appalachian mountains.

September 14, 2010 at 8:38 a.m.
TeaParty330 said...

Hurray for the folks in Chattanooga who showed what can be done with creative leadership and innovative engineering. Their success is due to operating EPB in a business-like manner, not like most government agencies. Don't give the stimulus program the credit for this accomplishment. The stimulus funds are being used to build a smart grid and smart meters for the electric system, not helping to build EPB's Internet business. Credit also goes to Alcatel-Lucent, which has developed the system EPB is using. The private sector telecoms will catch up quickly.

September 14, 2010 at 8:55 a.m.
my2cents said...

Gigabit Internet Service for businesses in Chattanooga is great, but let’s look at the ratepayer implications. TVA wants to change their pricing schedule.

Article Quote: “* Time-of-use pricing. EPB and other distributors installing "smart meters" may use this pricing approach to charge consumers different rates for electricity during different seasons and times of day to reflect the differing costs of generating more power based upon overall demand.”

Today TVA/EPB charges residential customers based on a flat rate regardless of Time of Day (TOD). When the EPB installs residential “smart meters”, it will allow EPB to initiate Time of Day rates for electric usage. That means your morning hot water shower and the evening meal is going to cost more because those are peak times. This Smart Meter will likely allow you to get on the high speed Internet and check your actual cost during those periods. Maybe we can alter that old schedule to a new TOD energy saver profile by taking that shower at 10AM and dinner at 9PM? Go Green!

The Stimulus has funded a new fiber communications link, complete with a new residential TOD electric meter. What does this mean? We funded the stimulus which funded the rise in our electric bill. That’s progress, but progress costs us money. How could the EPB justify fiber optics and new meters for all residential customers without TOD billing?

September 14, 2010 at 9:50 a.m.

It's only fastest between your entry point and the EPB switches/servers who then route it to at&t or other major carrier. So the announcement is a lot of nonsense and hype until the carriers supporting our area are as fast or faster. Think of it as a 8-lane on-ramp to a 6-lane highway.

The real benefit is within the EPB network which is the local network loop.

I wouldn't hype the Stimulus either. It was "supposed" to creat jobs... not faster porn downloads.

September 14, 2010 at 10:50 a.m.
librul said...

Gotta agree with you Bookie -

It's like firing up a Ferrari to go six blocks to the grocery store.

September 14, 2010 at 11:36 a.m.
Duford said...

There's a reason why none of the private companies pursued such a product..

...Because they didn't see a market for it.

Let's see how sales turns out over the next year...

September 14, 2010 at 3:36 p.m.
BGBarkley said...

One might remember while most homes would not have much use for it... business that provides WIFI to its customers or Businesses with a size able need for bandwidth will find it very useful. Note also that Chattanooga is trying to create a silicone valley of the South which would be a boon to the economy. Not even to mention that twenty years ago we thought Memory for MSDOS at 6-7 megabytes was extreme! Now you'd be hard pressed to find one below 100 Gigabytes... this is forward thinking at its best.

September 14, 2010 at 5:32 p.m.
whatever said...

I think somebody is confusing Hard disk space and Memory.

In terms of customer roll-out, well, it costs them next to nothing if they don't sell it, so if they can offer it, why not?

September 14, 2010 at 5:50 p.m.
sideviews said...

EPB is ahead of its business plan with more than 15,000 customers of EPB Fiber Optics, including 12,000 on the Internet. EPB needs about 35,000 customers to break even, but many areas haven't even gotten service yet. It will be an interesting battle between EPB and Comcast, which still has a very attractive package for most people.

September 14, 2010 at 8:02 p.m.
cornmeal said...

Yeah Tax Payer, Lets make downtown Chattanooga a WIFI free zone!!!

September 14, 2010 at 11:43 p.m.
dc0de said...

This is supposed to be a good thing? Wooptdidoo. There are still homes in Charleston that can't even get DSL or Cable they're forced to use Satellite, or dial-up.

This isn't a great big deal, until the local providers/ISPs get their act together and start providing services into the regions, homes, and users that are currently UNSERVED.

I would be more impressed if Tennessee legislators got involved in making the Cable companies and other ISP's provide services to all of the residents, before claiming a "victory".

October 8, 2010 at 6:51 p.m.
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