Chattanooga gained national attention Sunday night for its high-speed Internet service, which National Public Radio heralded as the fastest in the country and 100 times faster than the broadband service in most cities.
In a report on NPR's flagship news program "All Things Considered," Mayor Andy Berke said the gigabit-per-second broadband service offered by Chattanooga's EPB is an investment in the future, when more businesses will need even faster data and video connections via the Internet.
"I tell people all the time that you don't need gigabit-per-second technology to load ESPN.com faster," Berke quipped during an interview that aired Sunday night. "But we're starting to see companies who are looking at us, coming here and making decisions, understanding that they will need more capacity in the future and Chattanooga has that today."
Chattanooga's high-speed Internet helped propel the development of Quickcue, an online restaurant reservation company which recently was sold for $11.5 million.
But the NPR report noted that installing the fiber optic grid in the self-proclaimed "Gig City" came at a cost: EPB invested nearly $300 million to build its fiber optic network and more than a third of that investment was paid from a federal grant.
Verizon and Google are privately funding high-speed fiber optic networks in cities like Kansas City, Austin, Texas, and Provo, Utah. The head of the cable TV industry's trade group told NPR he is skeptical about municipal programs like the one in Chattanooga.
"The citizens of individual communities are free to make those choices if they want, but as a citizen I would have serious questions about the value of using public funding to the degree that is required to both build and maintain these systems," said Michael Powell, a former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission who is president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.
"Given that there is a robust private market serving virtually every corner of the country, I think it can be a questionable public decision."