Is EPB's gig service a hoax ?

We've all heard that EPB can provide a gigabit of Internet service. Supposedly a constant stream of mind-bogglingly fast Internet that delivers a billion bits of Internet excitement per second is available - for a price - to every home and business in a 600 square mile area.

The promise of the gig is trumpeted on billboards across the city and on TV ads during almost every commercial break.

The gig has become such a prevalent force in Chattanooga that city officials and community leaders are working to rebrand Chattanooga as the Gig City, for goodness sake.

With all the focus on the gig, you'd think EPB would be excited to show the service off. Strangely, however, it seems more people have seen a virgin at a brothel than have seen the gig in action for any extended time.

It makes you wonder, doesn't it? What if it's all a hoax? One big fat lie? What if EPB can't actually provide a gigabit of constant Internet service?

That question is even more relevant after EPB essentially refused to provide Iron Labs, an upstart video gaming business, with gig service.

Sure, a few folks are signed up to receive the gig - there are between 2 and 26 commercial gig customers, depending on the month and who you ask.

But what makes Iron Labs unique is that, unlike EPB's current gig customers who generally use only a fraction of a gig of bandwidth, the gaming business will use hundreds of megabits of bandwidth regularly, perhaps even occasionally approaching a gig.

Iron Labs recently opened its doors on Chestnut Street, less than two blocks from EPB's palatial $26 million downtown headquarters. Besides hosting video game tournaments and providing multiple stations where customers can play the latest video games on the newest consoles and computers, the facility also functions as a cyber café.

If there's ever been a business in Chattanooga that could gobble up bandwidth, Iron Labs is it.

Apparently, EPB agreed. In August, Iron Labs snagged a $50,000 award courtesy of the Gig Tank - a contest featuring entrepreneurs dreaming up ways to use a gig in a commercial venture. EPB was one of the competition's primary sponsors.

There was only one hitch. When Aaron Welch, the force behind Iron Labs, asked to partner with EPB to showcase the gig Internet service in his business, the electric company told him to buzz off.

When he then offered to purchase the gig at the advertised small business rate of $299.99 per month, EPB again refused, claiming only companies that could never actually use a gig were eligible for that price. EPB said that if Welch wanted the gig service, it would cost $50,000 - an outrageous sum for a small startup.

In the end, Welch had to rely on Comcast, EPB's most bitter competitor, to provide Iron Labs with the needed bandwidth at a reasonable price.

It is clear that EPB only sells its gig service to customers who can never use anywhere near that much bandwidth. Potential customers who could utilize a gig are quoted an astronomical price to prevent them from actually purchasing it.

No one is naïve enough to think that EPB's SmartGrid can handle dozens of users fully utilizing a gig of service - even if the infrastructure did cost taxpayers and electric customers $552 million. But it may be time to start asking if EPB can actually handle even one legitimate gigabit customer.

EPB, quit being a tease, if the gig is all it's cracked up to be, prove it. Not for a few minutes here and there, but by providing it to a business that can really push the system to the limit and show what it can do.

We've heard how the gig is the future. We've been told how it will change Chattanooga forever. We've shelled out the tax dollars and paid higher electric bills required to bankroll building the SmartGrid in a way that could praovide a gigabit of bandwidth through its fiber optic network.

Now it's time to put up or shut up.