Chattanooga's EPB launching phone service into clouds

EPB will unveil new services in coming days as the city-owned utility seeks to compete more aggressively with rivals in the fiber-optic telecommunications business.

On the business front, the company soon will announce a telephone service that functions like a private cloud.

Customers pay a monthly fee, which sometimes is preferable to an up-front capital investment for phones and network infrastructure that can stretch to thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, said Katie Espeseth, head of product development.

"We looked at an average business that had nine sets and eight lines, and it comes to about $320 per month, instead of thousands of dollars in up-front costs," Espeseth said.

When businesses install them on their own, the systems and devices require employees to maintain, at a time when many companies are looking to streamline their IT departments.

"It really takes the burden of installing and maintaining your telephone equipment off your own employees and puts it with our company," said Espeseth. "In Chattanooga, if a small business can take the capital they were going to spend on a new phone system and invest it in their business, it makes sense to spread that cost out over time."

The service uses EPB's citywide fiber-optic grid to create a direct connection between a business and EPB -- like a fast, private Internet connection.

The connection differs from a typical Internet connection in that it goes directly from point A to point B without bouncing around the world, she said.

Neal Potter, sales team lead for the new technology, said the utility already has initiated a trial run of the new service with the Tennessee Valley Public Power Association and has been impressed with the results.

Workers' favorite feature is the system's ability to email voice messages and grant remote Web access to call forwarding and voicemail settings, Potter said.

"On their dashboard, they can see missed calls, made calls, can create reports, anything," he said.

A feature called "find me, follow me," allows employees to set up a system of progressive rings.

"You can set it up so that if someone calls it will ring your phone twice, then ring your cell phone twice, then ring your boss three times," he said. "It's pretty powerful stuff."

While fiber-optic telephone service may be new, the company has offered telecom services for 12 years and knows its way around phones, Espeseth said

"It's becoming more and more common as people are getting more advanced networks," she said. "Ours is just a little bit different because we have a 100 percent fiber network here."