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Subs in Chattanooga Up to 100K
Earlier this month, Chattanooga’s celebrated as municipal network EPB Fiber Optics announced that they now have more than 100,000 subscribers. The high numbers indicate that the network is serving more than 60 percent of premises in the EPB service area. EPB's success also attests to the popularity of publicly owned Internet infrastructure that is accountable and responsive to the community that both own and use the network.
An Expected Milestone, Big Benefits
Hitting six digit subscribership this fall was no surprise based on rapid growth and intense interest in EPB’s affordable, symmetrical 10 gigabit connectivity along with other available speeds. When the city began serving subscribers in 2009, they based initial figures on an estimate of 35,000 subscribers within five years to break even. Within 18 months, they had already surpassed those goals.
Having paid off remaining debt earlier this year, more revenue is now freed up for more investment back into the system or to put back into the community. The utility is now reinvesting around $42 million per year back into the electric system and power rates are lower for the entire community, regardless of whether or not electric customers are EPB Fiber Optic subscribers.
"Contrary to the fears some had about us spending power funds to pay for this service, our power rates are actually 7 percent lower than they otherwise would be because of our Fiber Optic network and the business it has generated for us," EPB President David Wade said.
In addition to significant savings on power rates, Chattanooga has experienced an influx of economic development as tech companies have come to the city specifically for the network. “Gig City” Mayor Andy Berke:
Chattanooga Subs Continue to Increase as Smart Grid Saves
In May of 2017 we congratulated Chattanooga’s EPB Fiber for exceeding 90,000 subscribers and contributing to lower power rates for all (Electric Power Board) EPB customers. Now less than a year later, there is more to celebrate as EPB expects to reach 100,000 subscribers by Fall 2018 and is still lowering electricity costs for all customers.
The city-owned electric utility launched its citywide fiber optic network in 2009 and never looked back. The original plan issued nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in debt for the utility and had an estimated forecast for only 35,000 subscribers. The city is now reaping the rewards from its investment; the utility paid off the last of its debt earlier this year, and now projected revenues for the fiscal year 2018-2019 from the telecom division sit at $169.1 million.
For a detailed, interesting history on EPB Fiber Optics, take some time to listen to Harold DePriest talk with Christopher in episode 230 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Before retiring, Harold was the tip of the spear in bringing the network to Chattanooga.
While EPB has long been recognized for its lightning fast Internet speeds and has repeatedly been ranked among the fastest in the U.S. (including this year’s fourth fastest ISP in the United States), the utility’s fiber optic lines also help lower power rates for all customers by eight percent. Whether Chattanoogans subscribe to EPB Fiber for Internet access or not, they still benefit from the infrastructure.
EPB Fiber Today: 90K+ Subscribers, Lower Power Rates
Congratulations to Chattanooga’s EPB Fiber, which in April exceeded 90,000 subscribers and contributed to lower power rates for all EPB customers.
Savings For Everyone
While the increased subscribership is cause for celebration, an equally important chapter in the story is that EPB lowered power rates by 7 percent as a result of upgrading to a “smart grid.” All EPB customers may not subscribe to EPB Fiber's Internet access, but all electric customers benefit from lower electric rates. Chattanooga’s fiber network operates as the main mode of communications for the grid, while also providing Internet services to businesses and residents.
The grid and fiber combination includes sensors, meters, and switches that enable EPB to track energy use and manage power outages. During one storm in 2013, the grid’s switches reduced outage times by 55 percent, saving EPB $1.4 million. In late April, the area endured severe storms, but network officials estimate the smart grid prevented power outages to 17,800 customers.
In an interview with Christopher last November, EPB’s former President and CEO Harold DePriest detailed how Chattanooga’s fiber network helps bring down costs:
“We built a smart grid on the back of that fiber, and that has very literally cut the number of outages and the length of outages here in Chattanooga by 50 to 60 percent... that one thing is saving our community's businesses somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 to 60 million dollars a year. That's pretty substantial.”
J. Ed. Marston, EPB’s vice president of marketing and communications, said:
Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 230
This is the transcript for episode 230 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Harold DePriest of Chattanooga, Tennessee, describes his role in building the fiber network in the city. This is an in-depth interview of over an hour in length. Listen to this episode here.
Harold DePriest: This fiber system will help our community have the kind of jobs that will let our children and grand children stay here and work if they want to. That is the biggest thing that has happened.
Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 230 of the community broadband bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Chattanooga, Tennessee has been profiled in dozens of media outlets. It's a community reborn from one of the dirtiest cities in America, to what is now an economic development powerhouse. The city's publicly owned fiber optic network provides high quality connectivity that attracts businesses and entrepreneurs, but getting to where they are today did not happen overnight. In this episode, Chris has an in depth conversation with Harold DePriest, one of the men behind bringing fiber optics to Chattanooga. He's retired now, but as president and CEO of the electric power board, he was involved from the beginning. Harold describes how the electric power board made changes both inside and out, and went from being just another electric utility, to one that's considered one of the best in customer service in the country. The interview is longer than our typical podcast, but we think it's worth is. Now here are Chris and Harold DePriest, former CEO and president of the electric power board in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to a community broadband bits discussion. A long form discussion, a little bit different from what we normally do, with someone that I have a tremendous amount of respect for, Harold DePriest. Welcome to the show.
Harold DePriest: Thank you. It's good to be with you Chris.
The Deep History of Chattanooga's Fiber Network - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 230
In a break from our traditional format of 20-30 minutes (or so), we have a special in-depth interview this week with Harold Depriest, the former CEO and President of Chattanooga's Electric Power Board. He recently retired after 20 incredibly transformative years for both Chattanooga and its municipal electric utility.
We talk about the longer history behind Chattanooga's nation-leading fiber network and how the culture of the electric utility had to be changed long before it began offering services to the public. We also talk about the role of public power in building fiber networks.
Something we wanted to be clear about - we talk about the timeline of when Chattanooga started to build its network and how that changed later when the federal stimulus efforts decided to make Chattanooga's electric grid the smartest in the nation. This is an important discussion as few understand exactly what the grant was used for and how it impacted the telecommunications side of the utility.
But we start with the most important point regarding Chattanooga's fiber network - how it has impacted the community and the pride it has helped residents and businesses to develop. For more information about Chattanooga's efforts, see our report, Broadband at the Speed of Light, and our Chattanooga tag.
This show is 70 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed.
We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.
Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.
Thanks to mojo monkeys for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Bodacious."
EPB Turns Up The Speed To 10 Gigs
Chattanooga's EPB Fiber Optics now offers 10 gigabit Internet service to all households and businesses in its service area. The ultra-fast service is available for $299 per month with free installation, no contracts, and no cancellation fees, announced community leaders at a press conference on October 15th.
In addition to 10 gig service, EPB is also offering "Professional" products available in 3 gig, 5 gig, and 10 gig for large businesses. Smaller businesses have the option of choosing 5 gig or 10 gig Internet products. According to the press release, prices on all the new products vary.
Since the network was launched in 2010, Chattanooga has transformed from one of the "dirtiest cities in America" to a haven for the entrepreneurial culture. Chattanooga experienced explosive economic development leading to thousands of new jobs, substantial public savings due to the network's smart grid capabilities, and new educational opportunities for students and workforce development.
Chattanooga’s fiber optic network has produced tangible results. A study recently released by University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Finance professor Bento Lobo shows “the Gig Network” helped the Chattanooga area generate at least 2,800 new jobs and at least $865.3 million in economic and social benefits. The study also found the EPB smart grid, which is the cornerstone application of the utility’s community-wide fiber optic network, has allowed customers to avoid an estimated 124.7 million minutes of electric service interruptions by automatically re-routing power (often in less than a second) to prevent an outage or dramatically reduce outage durations.[read the study here]
EPB Working with Department of Energy to Improve Smart Grid
EPB estimates local businesses have saved approximately $50 million by reducing lost productivity due to power outages by 60 percent over the past two years. Those figures are impressive but Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) will be working with EPB to raise them even higher.
The Times Free Press recently reported that ORNL will send engineers to Chattanooga to optimize the use of data from the EPB smart grid. The goal will be to increase efficiency even further and to use their discoveries to help other U.S. electric utilities.
"We have to have a more reliable electric system," DePriest said after signing an agreement Monday to work with the Oak Ridge lab on electric grid improvements. "Electricity is essential to our modern way of life and we have to figure out ways to use all the data we are gathering in a quicker and more usable manner."
EPB's smart grid now gathers data in 15 minute increments whereas many utilities that have less sophisticated capabilities only collect data once or twice a month. EPB's system quickly discovers problems that can balloon into costly mistakes if not detected early.
As more people use solar, wind, or geothermal power, providing electricity or purchasing electricity from consumers becomes more complicated.
"We need to continue to innovate and get better," said Patricia Hoffman, assistant secretary for DOE's electricity delivery and energy division. "Chattanooga has been a leader and we hope this will help us find ways to make our electric grid more efficient, more flexible and more reliable."
Chattanooga Cements Status as Best Network in the Nation
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.
Ames Tribune Editorial Board Wants a Gig
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.