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.
The fiber optic network that EPB installed nearly a decade ago not only allow the ISP to provide gigabit connectivity, it was also strategically built on top of the preexisting power grid, creating its “smart grid.” This allows the utility to monitor its electrical system in real time and to read all meters every 15 minutes, saving the cost of sending technicians into the field. Additionally, the smart grid is able to instantly reroute power in the case of an outage, saving the city $50 million annually and dramatically reducing power outages. These savings mean lower electricity costs for all of EPB’s customers, not just those subscribing to Internet.
A February 2017 the Berkman Klein Center studied benefits from Chattanooga's smart grid and estimated it offered $23.6 million in direct annual paybacks and revenue along with significant indirect benefits. Read more about the report and the methodology.
In its most recently proposed budget plan, EPB projects a return of $45 million in payments from the telecom network to the electric system and $24.3 million in earnings from its telecom division will help lower power rates by eight percent.
Smart Grid Revolution
Smart grid technology is allowing others to cut costs for customers. Ouachita Electric Cooperative, located in south-central Arkansas, reduces costs for members by utilizing their fiber optic network to track electricity use. Similarly, Tullahoma, Tennessee, uses Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) to automatically read electric and water meters and significantly reduce costs. Fiber optic networks not only bring fast, affordable, reliable Internet access, they also allow for smarter and more efficient utilities, cutting costs for both cities and subscribers.