Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
Content tagged with "chattanooga"
Even though there are several publicly owned networks in Tennessee, existing state statutes create barriers discouraging investment. This year, there is a movement at the state Capitol that may change the environment.
The Jolt Digest and CivSource recently reported that four bills aimed at expanding municipal networks in Tennessee have strong support in Nashville. These Tennessee bills are a refreshing change from bills that are pushed by the cable and telephone companies to limit investment in next-generation networks.
However, these bills are often killed quickly in committee or subcommittee due to the tremendous lobbying power of the big cable and telephone companies.
According to the Jolt Digest, two bills are location specific. From the article:
S.B. 2005 and H.B. 1974 would expand the municipal electric system’s provision of broadband service in Clarksville, Tennessee’s fifth largest city, while S.B. 2140 and H.B. 2242 would allow Trousdale County to contract with a rural electric cooperative to provide broadband services.
As the rules stands, municipal electric utilities that offer broadband cannot expand beyond their electric service territory. Clarksville would like to reach out further to offer services to schools, hospitals, and industrial parks. CDE Lightband now provides a gig product that community anchors need. According to Christy Batts at CDE Lightband, the network recently upgraded residential customers without raising rates. The lowest Internet access speed available to new customers is now 50 Mbps for $44.95 per month.
The possible merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable and the FCC's recent announcement to review state barriers have created a significant buzz in the world of telecommunications. Two recent NPR interviews with Susan Crawford and Jim Baller provide insight into how the merger may affect consumers and why a new light is shining on municipal networks.
Crawford spoke with Brooke Gladstone for a recent interview for On the Media. The two addressed some of the consequences of the potential merger. Crawford also discussed the option of municipal broadband investment is an alternative gaining traction. As our readers know, Crawford authored Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age. Crawford joined us in a past episode of the Communiy Broadband Bits podcast.
Jim Baller, President of the Baller Herbst Law Group, also joined On the Media when he spoke with Bob Garfield. Baller and Garfield talked about the cable and telecom lobby's efforts to block municipal authority to build networks. Baller supplied a few of the many examples of successful communities that have blossomed as a result of their investment. We have interviewed Baller three times for our podcast.
Each interview is a little over six minutes.
One of the main differentiator's of community owned networks compared to the big cable and telephone companies is customer service. Being rooted in the community, vested in its success, and employing local residents just means better, more prompt service. A prominent Chattanoogan recently explained:
My last shout-out is to EPB Fiber Optics. This is not a paid commercial, just an opportunity for me to brag on some people who know what they’re doing. I am the first to go on social media and complain about whatever store or business is guilty of subpar service. It’s human nature, and it often makes for a good story. I started using EPB for my cable, internet and phone service about a month ago. I have encountered three problems during that time, none of them major, but all beyond my level of expertise. Each time, I called their help line. Each time, I spoke to local people who did not put me on hold for extended periods, nor did they force me to learn a new language. They always solved my problem within five minutes. My blood pressure thanks you, EPB. This is how it’s done.
We hear these stories frequently with community owned fiber networks. It is hard to do a national study that quantifies the benefits of better customer service, but if we could, we have no doubt the locally owned networks would bury the national cable and telephone companies.
EPB in Chattanooga offers a service to business clients that offers a good reminder that local service providers have to be able to offer a variety of business services because different businesses have vastly different wants and needs. In 2012, the publicly owned utility began offering telephone service with cloud characteristics.
The service saves money by limiting the need of small businesses to commit to capital investment and personnel costs while offering the capabilities that larger firms with larger IT staffs have. A TimesFreePress article on the service from 2012 reported:
"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," [Katie] Espeseth [EPB's head of product development] 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."
EPB did their homework and now provides a service that small businesses need at affordable rates. Understanding the needs of local businesses and offering a range of options is key to the success of local providers.
Video streaming by Ustream The Washington Post covered the story, including several quotes from me.
DePriest tells me that EPB's fiber network is "a great profit center." In the four years the service has been active, the utility company has increased its mid-tier speeds three times — from 15 Mbps to 30 Mbps, from 30 Mbps to 50 Mbps and now from 50 Mbps to 100 Mbps. About 2,500 elite users will enjoy 1-gig speeds by the beginning of October.Phil Dampier has more coverage at StoptheCap.com, including an analysis of AT&T and Comcast competition.
AT&T charges $65 a month for 24/3Mbps service — its fastest — with a 250GB monthly usage cap, currently not enforced. For $5 more, EPB customers get 1,000/1,000Mbps with no usage limits or overlimit fees.A recent article in the Chattanoogan noted that Chattanooga had surpassed 50,000 subscribers and was on path to surpass Comcast in subscriber base locally.
Mr. DePriest said Comcast had some 122,000 customers on the EPB grid when EPB launched its rival program. He said Comcast is down to around 75,000 and will likely drop to around 60,000 next year.
Knoxville Metro Pulse reporter Paige Hunton published a story last month about a common complaint from downtown residents and businesses - "Downtown Knoxville's Internet Access Kinda Sucks. Can It Be Fixed?" The problem worked its way from local talk to twitter and city leaders have met with residents and business owners to publicly discuss options.
This is a perfect example of what happens to a community that refuses to take responsibility for ensuring local businesses and residents have access to the essential infrastructure they need. Knoxville's approach to improving its Internet access is akin to crossing one's fingers and hoping really hard for the best.
Hunton' describes modern day disaster in the downtown area comprised of an inconsistent patchwork of AT&T DSL, Comcast, and a very limited amount of private provider fiber optics. Some areas have no access, others have no choices. While the city tries to encourage downtown commerce with tax credits for developers and a new entrepreneur center critical high-speed connections are missing.
City officials say the downtown area has a limited amount of aging conduit, discouraging private providers and cost prohibitive to expand. Likewise, old buildings with substandard internal wiring discourage investment from private companies.
Hunton tells the story of Ian Blackburn, a former colleague that now works for a downtown employer impacted by the lack of high-speed broadband downtown. After outgrowing its T1, the company went with 6 Mbps through AT&T DSL. AC Entertainment soon outgrew DSL:
"On one occasion in our DSL days, we had to download a video spot from an artist management site, make a few edits, burn it to disc, and get it to FedEx that day. The browser was estimating over an hour remaining for the download, which would miss the FedEx cutoff point. I remotely logged into a server in my living room, started the download, jumped on my bike, pedaled home, burned the file to a DVD, and was back in the office inside of 20 minutes,” he says. “The problem got solved, but that’s a ridiculous way for a company to have to operate. You can’t do business if you can outrun your Internet on a bicycle.”
Yet Don Kom, director of the City of Ames Electric Department, tells us: “There has been no discussion at my level of bringing fiber from the city to our customers. We’re not having that discussion.” Certainly the city has many pressing issues and priorities to address, but super-fast Internet service ought to be high on its list. Besides the fact that it’s the wave of the future and we ought to try to keep pace with that wave, Ames has an impressive history of ambitious and innovative achievements.
In a recent New York Daily New article, Scott Stringer wrote about the Big Apple's tech employment trends. He noted that more tech related positions now come to the city but those jobs still tend to elude women and people of color. He suggests looking at New York's own workforce and offering better science and technology training. How do they do that? Improve curriculum, of course, but:
Ultimately, the new workforce is only as strong as the infrastructure that supports it. Today, fast, reliable Internet access isn’t a luxury — it is a core utility of the modern age.
Stringer notes the antiquated copper throughout the city and looks south for a model:
Lafayette, La., constructed a municipal fiber network in 2005, linking fiber to every home and business. In Chattanooga, Tenn., the city worked with the public electric company to build a fiber network that not only helped modernize the energy grid, but also linked 150,000 homes and businesses to a gigabit connection that is 20 times faster than connections in much of New York City.
London-based Foreign Direct Investment recently recognized Lafayette as one of the top 10 Small American Cities of the Future, in part due to its fiber infrastructure. Chattanooga has received multiple recognitions for it innovative municipal network.