Tag: "chattanooga"

Posted September 2, 2010 by christopher

Last week I had the good fortune of spending 24 hours in Chattanooga to get a better sense of what the community is doing with their impressive broadband network, EPBFi. It was pretty amazing, especially for an outdoorsy-kinda-guy like me. Chattanooga has an impressive air about it, a place on the up-swing.

I'll be writing more about my observations in the coming weeks (my schedule from last week to next week is jam-packed) but I wanted to note that Chattanooga looks to be one incredible place to be in coming years. They offer the fastest broadband in the nation at prices competitive to Comcast (which is to say, they cost a tiny bit more for a ton bigger, better, and faster service).

The Chattanoogan Hotel, where I stayed, was fed by community fiber and it was the best hotel broadband I have ever used.

The city is committed not just to offering top-notch broadband, but working with people in the community that want to do interesting things. In fact, they are more or less courting people who want to do interesting things. So many communities focus entirely on the need to build the network… not all appreciate the challenges of fully leveraging such a network.

When a community has arguably the best network available in the country, they want to let people know. Especially people who want to design the next-generation applications that will take advantage of everyone having extremely fast connectivity. They have plenty of space for co-location and still more room for expansion (they are as professional as you get in this regard).

But the reason for this post was a reminder in a local story, "Fiber-optic workers take to the woods." Chattanooga is only 25% of the Electric Power Board's footprint, but everyone served by EPB will have access to the same incredible broadband speeds.

Unlike big companies who only roll out services where profits are guaranteed, EPB contends it never considered only serving areas that would be profitable. I asked several times, noting that I frequently see comments from some that people who live in rural areas made a choice and they should simply have to pay more or not be connected as a consequence.

Local leaders reject that approach -- a fitting legacy in a state that was famously electrified by one of the most successful...

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Posted August 17, 2010 by christopher

Jonathan Feldman's "The State of Broadband," in a July Information Week cover story, is a breath of fresh air. Too often, these articles are written by someone with little background who extrapolates after discussions with the PR wing of several big companies. But Feldman has a keen grasp of reality and is aware of the many communities that offer far better services than the big companies like Comcast and AT&T.

The state of broadband matters to your organization. There's been considerable consumer interest over the past several years, culminating in an FCC plan announced earlier this year to expand broadband coverage and speeds and promote competition. IT organizations can benefit by staying in touch with those regulatory issues, as well as taking advantage of new technology trends, such as wireless broadband, and partnering with alternative providers and municipal networks that buck the status quo. There are clearly risks in doing so, but taking no action almost guarantees that enterprise IT, with pockets of presence in rural and other nonurban areas, will continue to be held back by low-capacity, high-expense networks.

I was even more impressed when I came upon a chart showing "selected rates for business Internet service for small and home offices." As would be expected, it showed Verizon FiOS, AT&T, Charter, and Comcast. But to give a sense of what is possible outside these major carriers, it showed LUS (community fiber network in Lafayette, LA) Fiber prices -- which completely blew away options from the major carriers. There was nothing even close.

He also notes Chattanooga's impressive 150Mbps tier -- which, as I often hasten to note, is not to suggest that community fiber networks are only successful if they can offer such impressive speeds. Chattanooga has access to bigger pipes at lower prices to connect to the Internet than most communities. And they are certainly taking advantage of that local situation!

My only quibble with the article lies with the assertion that competition is on the way for most of us. I think competition is on the way for very few of us, absent community investment. And with community networks come a host of added benefits -...

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Posted June 18, 2010 by christopher

A 2007 video from Chattanooga's Electric Power Board explaining the benefits of publicly owned fiber-optic infrastructure.

Posted June 15, 2010 by christopher

Lafayette Utilities System has filed a complaint with the FCC following what seems to be a rather arbitrary decision by the National Cable Television Cooperative (NCTC) to deny Lafayette as a member. This is a crucial issue for communities that want to build fiber-optic networks, so we will dig in and offer an in-depth explanation.

It all starts with the business model. Fiber-optic networks are fantastically expensive and are expected to be financed entirely with revenues from subscribers. Though communities typically want fiber-optic networks for the broadband capacity, they find themselves having to offer cable television services also to ensure they will attract enough subscribers to make the debt payments on the network.

Unfortunately, cable television services are the most difficult and expensive part of the triple-play (broadband, telephone, cable tv). A community network has to sign deals with different content providers in order to put together its channel lineup. Even a community network with 100,000 subscribers has little power over the companies with channels like ESPN, the Disney Channel, Discovery, MTV, Food Network, and others. Thus, it will have to pay more for those channels than massive networks like Comcast that have many millions of subscribers and therefore a stronger negotiating position. LUS has noted that video programming is the "largest single on-going cost" it incurs in the network.

Enter the NCTC. By forming a cooperative, many small providers (public and private) were able to gain negotiating power over content owners and even hardware manufacturers to cut costs to members by buying in bulk. In recent years, the size of NCTC rivaled that of major national providers like Charter and Cox cable. All three parties stood to gain by bringing Cox and Charter into NCTC in 2009. The addition grew NCTC significantly -- only Comcast has more subscribers currently.

The advantages of NCTC are quite significant and worth reiterating because it is a reminder of the ways in which massive private companies have the playing field tilted in their direction. Without access to NCTC, communities have to pay more for the same content and equipment (NCTC savings may start at 15%-20%. From the complaint:

NCTC market power also enables it to obtain much bigger, better, more flexible, and less costly packages, than any individual small cable...

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Posted June 4, 2010 by christopher

It's fast and it's symmetrical. Chattanooga, the nation's largest muni FTTH network will be offering the fastest residential package in the country by the end of the month: 150 Mbps.

Chattanooga's Electric Power Board (EPB) is ahead of schedule in the fiber rollout, planning to offer triple-play services to all 145,000 residential customers in its electrical territory by the end of the year. Dave Flessner at the Chattanooga Times Free Press covered this story and the paper posted a short audio clip of EPB President Harold DePriest at the press conference.

EPBFi is up to almost 10,000 customers, a number expected to double by the end of the year.

Comcast is responding to this aggressive muni network:

Comcast Corp. remains Chattanooga's biggest video provider and has also increased the speed of its Internet offerings and the number of high-definition television channels and movies it provides for its subscribers.

Tennessee, home to the famous Tennessee Valley Authority that brought the electrical grid the mountains long neglected by the private sector, continues to value public ownership of infrastructure:

Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey likened EPB's broadband expansions to what the Tennessee Valley Authority brought to the region during the Great Depression.

"What is happening today is equivalent to electricity coming to the valley in the 1930s," he said.

I'm guessing this 150Mbps plan is the first of more impressive announcements to come out of Chattanooga as they take advantage of this key community asset. The 150 Mbps press release is available here.

The article also noted a major economic development win in Bristol Tennessee - a $20 million newspaper printing plant that would not have been possible without their muni network. This testimonial is located toward the bottom of the page.

Hyatt [company VP] acknowledged that the high-speed data transfer and reliable fiber optics were the main reasons for locating the facility in the park. This service is essential as companies move deeper into the information age, especially with...

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Posted April 25, 2010 by christopher

Time Warner continues to fight for monopoly protections in North Carolina with legislation to hamstring municipalities, preventing them from building the essential broadband infrastructure they need. While I was in Lafayette at FiberFete, the North Carolina Legislature was considering a bill to preempt local authority, essentially shutting down the prospect for any cable and broadband competition in the state.

Jay Ovittore has covered this legislation in depth.

Salisbury small businessman Brad Walser, owner of Walser Technology Group testified that North Carolina community’s new municipal broadband network Fibrant would meet his company’s needs for broadband capacity not available from commercial providers. Walser noted Salisbury is suffering from an unemployment rate exceeding 14 percent. Advanced broadband, he believes, could help the city attract new businesses that will help create new, high paying jobs. Fibrant is expected to launch later this year.

Folks from Chattanooga also testified about the benefits of publicly owned networks. The public outcry on the issue has been helpful:

All of your e-mails and calls have been getting through to the legislators. This kind of attention makes them nervous and I ask you to continue. I can assure you that we here at Stop the Cap!, along with Communities United for Broadband, Broadband for Everyone NC, and Save North Carolina Broadband are going to ratchet up attention on this issue.

If you live in North Carolina, definitely read the bottom of the post on how to help.

Unfortunately, the state legislature seems to have more nitwits than anyone who knows anything about networks: one State Senator suggested wireless will be replacing fiber soon - one wonders how the wireless tower will connect to the Internet... magic?

North Carolina could become the 19th...

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Posted April 5, 2010 by christopher

Recent letters in the Chattanoogan reflect frustration with the cable incumbent, Comcast, and the ease of switching to the publicly owned EPB Fiber network. This is one of them:

My Comcast exit was very easy. Step one: Make appointment to have EPB Fiber service installed. Step two: Put all Comcast receivers and remotes in a box and hand it through the "teller" window at the Comcast office. Step 3: Ask for a receipt from the nice lady to whom I handed the box. Step 4: Receive my Comcast credit balance check in the mail and open it while watching TV on the EPBFI system. I never even had to speak to a Comcast phone rep in India.

A previous round of letters discussed several of the ways the publicly owned network is superior to Comcast, though one customer complained that EPB Fiber was too expensive, compared to Comcast's introductory and temporary rates (incumbents like Comcast typically negotiate rates in response to competition without advertising the reduced rate - so customers who are willing to haggle over the phone may find cheaper prices from a private company willing to lose money to deny customers to competition).

One reader noted how fast the local, publicly owned network installed the network.

I left shortly after that call [ordering service] and returned a couple of hours later from grocery shopping. EPB contractors had already been to my home and installed the boxes on the side of the house. Yes, super fast service.

The day the installers came to complete the inside installation, they were on time, courteous and knew just what needed to be done to complete the install. One of the men even told me of a problem with my A/C heating unit duct work underneath my home which needed to be looked about soon. The men cleaned all the areas they worked in, made sure all my services worked correctly and asked if I had any questions they could answer before they left. Both men did a fantastic job and worked quickly to complete the work.

Posted November 19, 2009 by christopher
  • Communities around Rutland in Vermont are moving forward with a planned universal full fiber-to-the-home network. Interestingly, this network has been spear-headed by the Rutland Redevelopment Authority, not a local City Hall.

  • Back in Tennessee, the Clarksville Fiber Network is running ahead of schedule.

    logo-cdelightband.png

    Having reached the 6,000-customer mark, CDE Lightband's broadband service is slightly ahead of schedule in adding new subscribers, an official of the Clarksville utility said Wednesday — good news for a telecommunications division, which is still in its infancy.

    Initial projections had the utility servicing around 8,000 broadband subscribers by next June.

    ...

    New installations usually have about a six-week wait, primarily because of high demand, Batts said.

    Though demand is high, the goal of profitability is still a ways off — around 4,000 additional customers are needed to push the utility's telecommunications into the black, according to early department projections.

  • Seattle's new mayor campaigned on building a publicly owned, full fiber-to-the-home network. Reclaim the Media asks if Seattle will get its broadband 'public option.'

    As Reclaim the Media noted last summer, the main obstacles to moving forward with next-generation fiber to underserved areas in Seattle are (1) money and (2) political will. The city budget remains in slash-and-burn territory this year; next year's budget would be the earliest that the new Mayor would be able to effectively push a significant new priority. This winter, however, Schrier's office will be able to apply for federal broadband stimulus funds to build out the skeleton of a citywide fiber network (possibly in collaboration with Seattle City Light), and to provide actual door-to-door "fiber to the premises" (FTTP) service to underserved neighborhoods in the Central District and Beacon Hill. McGinn's leadership will be key in making this project happen.

    Following...

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Posted November 18, 2009 by christopher

As the FCC continues to formulate a National Broadband Plan, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance has submitted comments [pdf] about publicly owned networks in response to the Request for Comments #7: "Comment Sought on the Contribution of Federal, State, Tribal, and Local Government to Broadband." In our comments, we highlight the importance of publicly owned broadband networks by noting many success stories and offering details on networks from Chattanooga, Burlington, Monticello, and Powell, Wyoming. We also offer some comments about middle-mile networks and networks that connect core anchor institutions, like libraries and schools.

Posted September 28, 2009 by christopher

On Tuesday, September 15, EPB, the public power utility serving Chattanooga and nearby communities in Tennessee, rolled out fully fiber-powered triple-play services to 17,000, a number expected to grow by July 2010, when services will be available to some 100,000 people and businesses. It will take three years before all 160,000 potential subscribers are passed.

Chattanooga has had a relatively rough time creating the network due to the litigious nature of its incumbents, who have filed 4 lawsuits to stop the project only to have each of them dismissed by the courts. (This is a predictable outcome, many of these companies file frivolous lawsuits to intimidate communities with lost time and legal fees - leading to a no-lose situation for companies that invest more in lawyers than in the networks communities need in the modern economy.)

Prices and Options

All broadband speeds are symmetrical; prices by month

Option Price
15 Mbps $57.99
20 Mbps $69.99
50 Mbps $174.99
15 Mbps and basic phone $68.83
15 Mbps / basic phone / basic cable $92.97
15 Mbps/ phone & 120 min long distance / 77 Channels $117.24

Caveats: an extra $5.99 a month for HD Capability on the TV, but even the basic phone package comes with caller ID and 3-way calling

The Tennessee Cable and Telecommunications Association kicked off the lawsuits in 2007 and Comcast chimed in a year later. As has been done in other communities, the private companies alleged the power utility was cross-subsidizing its triple-play telecom offering with revenues from the electric side. Aside from this just being a poor business practice, the companies say such cross-subsidization would be unfair to them even as major carriers routinely cross-subsidize from community to community - overcharging in non-competitive markets to make up for keeping prices low in competitive markets.

Nonetheless, public power companies and other public agencies have learned to keep meticulous books to show they are not cross-subsidizing, something courts recognize each time their time is wasted by lawsuit-happy incumbent providers.

EPB has long offered some telecom...

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