No one seems to know what to use Chattanooga's world-class Internet speeds for, but several local groups are willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to find out.
The Gig Prize, a competition to develop applications using EPB's 1-gigabit fiber-optic network, is at least $300,000 in prizes and investment capital promised to the companies and individuals who come up with the best use.
Local business incubator Lamp Post Group put up $50,000 of that money for part of the competition aimed at college students. The rest came from a number of local and national companies, and is being managed by the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce.
J.Ed. Marston, the Chamber's vice president of marketing, said the prize is up to $300,000 and the competition's website, which boasts $400,000 in prizes, is in error. Still, details on the competition have yet to be firmed up, and the door is open for more sponsors.
J. Wayne Cropp, president and chief executive officer of Chattanooga's Enterprise Center, hopes the prize will be enough to answer what could be the several-million dollar question.
"What do you do with a gig? Nobody has been in the position that we're in," he said. "We see it as creating opportunity to create jobs, so it's an economic development initiative. We see it as an application that could really solve a lot of problems."
The network, which allows for connections about 100 times faster than the norm, is already being used in the health care industry, and several sponsors expect to see it change the face of several other industries.
"This infrastructure is a game changer. It cuts across any business," said Robert Philips, executive director of the Chattanooga Technology Council, which is supporting the contest. "It's just like the iPhone or other smartphones. Once it exists, people start to think of ways they can use it."
Philips envisions the city becoming a testing ground for companies interested in developing for the future. Eventually, the rest of the country will catch up to Chattanooga's speeds, and businesses wanting to stay ahead of the curve can come here to test their products.
Though Chattanooga has the infrastructure to bring thousands of households on the network, the economic incentive, in most instances, simply isn't there. Gigabit speed costs residential customers about $350 monthly, and is so fast that there aren't yet many applications.
But Philips envisions the cost dropping as companies provide monetary incentive for the network to be used.
"I really see it happening that way. We're in a recession. People aren't going to spring for some service they don't need immediately," he said. "But it's going to play out that this is a wise investment."
Cropp, whose center put up $20,000 in cash and training for the prize, said the applications that come out of the competition will be interesting.
"We need economic diversity in Chattanooga, and we've been doing great with business and industry, but we think we need some startup businesses and small businesses that can grow and scale," he said. "The question is, what will the researchers and students develop?"
To learn more about The Gig Prize, visit www.thegigcity.com.
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