Chattanooga boasts the fastest Internet in the Western World.
But these gigabit speeds require a hodgepodge of technology to operate in perfect unison — from the powerful bands of fiber ringing the city to the simple cable at the end of the line.
"What you're seeing is an adapt-and-perform moment," joked Internet radio host Craig Settles, as he tried unsuccessfully to jack his Macbook Pro into Chattanooga's gigabit fiber.
The city's vaunted gigabit speeds remained frustratingly out of reach Wednesday, even though the host of Gigabit Nation was plugged into EPB's downtown nerve center.
"Jiminy Cricket on a crutch," Settles said. "I can't do anything except make the wireless work."
Working from a conference room in EPB's Chattanooga headquarters, Settles traveled here to experience the Gig City firsthand, and to broadcast a live interview with former Federal Communications Commissioner Michael Copps.
The enterprising analyst launched the Gigabit Nation radio show 75 episodes ago with nothing but a laptop and a microphone. He interviews his subjects using Skype and broadcasts on BlogTalkRadio.com.
"For every traditional radio station working in the public interest, if there are 20 or 30 Internet radio shows, that is a blessing," Settles said.
But running a radio show on the road can seem like a blind date. Compatibility isn't guaranteed.
As the clock ticked inexorably down toward showtime in EPB headquarters, he tried restarting his computer. That didn't work. Neither did turning off his wireless in favor of the wired connection.
A trio of support personnel tried to troubleshoot Settles' gigabit glitch to no avail. The normal tech support crew was at lunch.
With seconds to spare, he cranked up the slower wireless network and pushed ahead with the broadcast.
"Showtime, Commissioner," Settles announced as the second hand swept past the 12.
On a good day, Settles' show typically attracts between 200 and 500 listeners and downloaders, and that number has grown in recent weeks.
Any time he mentions Chattanooga, the figures jump. July was his best month ever.
Creating his own radio show has allowed Settles a dizzying array of interactive options, allowing him to involve listeners at a deeper level than traditional over-the-air radio, he said.
"There is a real potential here to become an extension of traditional media," he said.
As big broadcasters cut back on their local staff, community radio hosts can take advantage of technology to fill in the gaps — or so the theory goes.
The only problem is that not everyone has access to the Web, and some access speeds are too slow for modern, interactive content.
On Wednesday, Settles and Copps discussed the democratization of news — big media bad, municipal broadband good.
Copps, who currently works with left-leaning advocacy organization Common Cause, is a strong proponent of blocking media mergers and spending taxpayer dollars to build Web access in rural and poor areas.
Calling the government's broadband plan a "dereliction of duty," Copps hopes to see a more active government role in building 21st century infrastructure.
According to Nielson, about 274 million of America's 311 million reisdents had basic Internet access as of February 2012. Though the number of those with Internet access has grown from 132 million in the year 2000, it's still not enough, Copps said.
"The rest of the world isn't going to wait for us to catch up," he said.
At the end of the show, Settles took a deep breath. He was frustrated by some of the audible pops and pauses caused by the wireless network, but still pumped about the gigabit's potential in Chattanooga.
"There is a business case that can be made for this type of broadcast," he said. "You look at integrating it with other stuff, and that's when it becomes radio-plus."
With the addition of social media integration, video chat and live chat rooms, a strong online community broadcast can accomplish what large media comglomerates can not, or will not do, Settles said.
No one truly knows what faster Internet speeds will do for media access and delivery. But for now, the future is likely to resemble the present, he acknowledged.
"It isn't really about the great apps as much as it's taking advantage of technology in a new way," Settles said. "It's not always about doing new stuff, but about doing old stuff differently."
Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...