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Chattanooga's mayor has tasked the city's public utility with supporting broadband

02. 06. 2023 Friday / By: Robert Denes / Industrial / Exact time: BST / Print this page

C hattanooga, Tennessee is ahead of the game when it comes to multi-concert connectivity, having rolled out a citywide 25-concert service for consumers and businesses last year. But how did your broadband initiatives get started?

In an interview with Fierce, Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly noted that EPB has played a role as a local utility and broadband provider in improving broadband access, adding, "it also helps that we sit at a key fiber hub in the eastern United States."

“Municipal broadband is kind of an unusual animal, and we were the first cities to do it, if I'm not mistaken, about 20 years ago,” he said. EPB provided 1 Gbps service to Chattanooga in 2010, followed by a 10 gig offering in 2015.

“When the utility is a city-owned utility whose mission is really tied to economic development, and the profits from our non-electric activities are put back into our economic development, it becomes a nice recursive loop where we continue to reinvest in the grid,” Kelly said.

He went on to say that Chattanooga has had "a very low growth rate" for the longest time. But about 25 years ago, city leaders came up with the idea of expanding broadband service with an electric utility and then "issued the bonds to build the network."

“As you can imagine, there was a lot of opposition from private providers who complained that we were competing with the private market,” Kelly said. "It kind of goes back to the debate of whether or not to have broadband."

Despite initial concerns that EPB might not get the "necessary market share" or that its customer service wouldn't be up to par, Kelly stated that "none of that has proven to be true."

He pointed out that EPB has "one of the highest" utility customer satisfaction rates in the country, with "nearly 75% market share".

EPB's new 25 gigabyte broadband service costs $1,500 a month Chattanooga's fiber network has been the starting point for the city's efforts to optimize its operations. This then led to the development of smart city technologies, Kelly continued.

"Our university has an urban informatics and mobility center that uses lidar to do some pretty cutting-edge research on pedestrian, cyclist, car interactions and safety," he said. Chattanooga has also created a real-time information center for law enforcement, placing cameras in key areas of the city.

Kelly noted that Chattanooga is a mid-sized city, so while it's "not at the level of Boston, New York or Silicon Valley yet," it has a "strong entrepreneurial culture." In December, technology company Qubitekk partnered with EPB to launch the first commercial quantum network in the United States.

“We're the only American city where you can test with large, dark fiber loops. One way [a quantum network] works is by shooting individual photons through a network and testing states in two different areas,” he said. "There's quite a bit of research going on in China because the state has large fiber optic loops there, but we don't know of any other cities in the U.S. where this is possible."

Chattanooga-based companies can take advantage of Qubitekk's network to test quantum technologies such as cryptography and supercomputing, Kelly added.

He hopes other cities can mirror Chattanooga's efforts because the utility broadband model is "critical to the development of our people and our cities."

“Obviously, there's a lot of opposition from the private market to that point of view,” Kelly said. "Until then, we'll enjoy it as a competitive advantage."

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