EPB speeds fiber optic service

EPB is increasing the rollout schedule and speed of its broadband services to create the nation's biggest and fastest municipal video and Internet service.

The city-owned utility announced Thursday that it will complete its fiber-optic connections to all of Chattanooga, East Ridge and Red Bank by the end of the month and extend its new video, Internet and phone system to all 145,000 of its residential electric customers by the end of the year.

EPB President Harold DePriest said the rollout is two years faster than originally planned and EPB is preparing by the end of the month to offer residential Internet service with speeds up to 150 megabits per second.

"Because we have built a network that takes the fiber optic all the way to the home, we have an incredible bandwidth available to us," he said. "This means that Chattanooga has the fastest municipal fiber-to-the-home system in the nation and we intend to keep it that way."

EPB is spending more than $220 million to install fiber-optic lines across its 600-square-mile service territory, which allows the utility to install "smart" meters for electricity appliance controls and video and Internet services in competition with traditional cable TV and phone providers.

Mr. DePriest said he expects EPB to install from 30,000 to 35,000 "smart meters" by the end of this year and to sign up nearly 20,000 customers for its "Fi-TV," "Fi-speed" Internet and "Fi-Phone" services by December.

"That's four months ahead of schedule and our costs continue to be under budget," Mr. DePriest said.

Comcast Corp. remains Chattanooga's biggest video provider and has also increased the speed of its Internet offerings and the number of high-definition television channels and movies it provides for its subscribers.

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AT&T, the phone provider for most of Tennessee and Georgia, plans to soon add its Internet protocol television through its telephone-based broadband network.

During a news conference Thursday, EPB officials insisted the company will give Chattanooga an advantage over other communities relying only upon traditional cable or phone providers for broadband services.

"With what EPB is building, Chattanooga is 10 years ahead of the rest of the nation," Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield said. "That won't last forever, but while we have this window of opportunity and we are ahead of the pack, we need to let businesses know and try to draw them to Chattanooga."

Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey likened EPB's broadband expansions to what the Tennessee Valley Authority brought to the region during the Great Depression.

"What is happening today is equivalent to electricity coming to the valley in the 1930s," he said.

By the numbers* 9,600 -- Number of current subscribers of EPB's fiber-optic services* 3,000 -- Number of installed "smart" meters on the EPB network* 20,000 -- Expected number of fiber-optic customers for EPB by year end* 30,000 -- Expected number of smart meters by year's end* 600 -- Number of square miles to be entirely served with EPB fiber-optic connections by the end of 2010Source: EPB

EPB is one of seven municipal electric systems in Tennessee offering broadband services. Bristol Essential Services in Bristol, Tenn., which built one of the first broadband networks across its electricity network, attracted a $20 million newspaper printing plant owned by Media General, which prints seven newspapers at the site.

"One of the main reasons we were able to locate them here was because of the presence of our high-speed data network," Bristol Essential Services President Mike Browder said.

To help Chattanooga market its high-speed broadband services from EPB, the Lyndhurst Foundation has agreed to pay for a targeted marketing campaign to businesses needing high-speed data or voice services.

"It's great to be first in the nation (with the new 150 megabits per second residential Internet service) and we think this can be a tremendous economic development hook for the city," said Sarah Morgan, program officer for the Lyndhurst Foundation.

While EPB expands in its own territory, the utility won't be able to expand outside of its own service, however. A proposal by Gov. Phil Bredesen to allow EPB and six other utilities to expand outside their service regions died this week when the Bredesen administration was unable to get enough state Senate support to attach enabling legislation to its overall budget package.