EPB ultra-speed Internet lures first customers

Allan Davis concedes he won't be able to use all the broadband capacity of EPB's new gigabit-per-second Internet service at his North Chattanooga home.

But the 32-year-old founder of Access America wants to be among the first to be hooked up to America's fastest broadband service, which will be more than 200 times faster than the average broadband service in the United States today.

"I know there is absolutely nothing I can do with a gigabit-per-second service to my home right now," Davis said Friday. "But this is a very powerful symbol of what Chattanooga is going to be in the future, and I wanted to be one of the early pioneers to support this effort."

Davis is one of a couple of homeowners who signed up this week for EPB's gigabit-per-second service on the fiber-optic network the utility is building across its 600-square-mile service territory.

Despite the hefty $349.99 monthly fee for the gigabit service, Davis expects it will attract new business and help technology entrepreneurs to grow in the Scenic City.

EPB is the first Internet provider in the United States to reach the gigabit-per-second mark. EPB and its primary vendor for its fiber-optic service - Alcatel-Lucent - boosted the speed of its Internet connections to 10 times faster than the goal set by the Federal Communications Commission for 2020 in its National Broadband Plan.

Google received hundreds of applications from cities eager to get gigabit-per-second service. Google plans to pick a city by year end.

To woo the computer giant, Topeka, Kan., even renamed its city "Google" in March.

But on Monday, EPB leapfrogged Google and Silicon Valley to be the first to offer the gigabit service, which is now available only in Hong Kong and a handful of cities in Europe and Korea, according to EPB President Harold DePriest.

Katie Espeseth, vice president of EPB Fiber Optics, told EPB directors Friday that she already has had "a huge response from businesses, which is exciting for Chattanooga."

Davis said "Chattanooga is as good of a place as anywhere in the country to start a business right now."

A Chattanooga native, Davis started Access America with his friends from college in 2002. The business has grown to more than $100 million in annual revenues.

Regardless of how many customers subscribe to the new gigabit service, EPB's offer of the fastest broadband service in the United States already is bringing lots of attention.

The first two days after EPB's announcement attracted 9.8 million Twitter subscribers to read tweets about the service and more than 320 news stories appeared in print and online. Network television coverage also ran on CNN, Fox Business News and Bloomberg television.

EPB is capitalizing on the new high-speed Internet, smart electric meters and new energy devices to tout Chattanooga as "the city of the future" in the utility's new annual report.

Former Mayor Jon Kinsey, whose KPH development firm is leading a Lyndhurst Foundation-funded effort to identify ways to capitalize on the faster Internet links, said the venture "should pay off in ways that we can't even imagine right now."

Since May, Kinsey and KPH partners Ken Hays and Ben Probasco have met with more than 150 business owners, political leaders and technology entrepreneurs to explore ways to use EPB's fiber-optic connections.

"We have never been the first in the country to offer something that everybody wants," Kinsey told EPB directors Friday. "But we find ourselves having that now."

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6340.