Tag: "tennessee"

Posted November 6, 2010 by christopher

Outside Plant Magazine has reprinted some of my "Breaking the Broadband Monopoly" report with a focus and updated numbers on the Chattanooga EPBFi network.

Across the country, hundreds of local governments, public power utilities, non-profits, and cooperatives have built successful and sometimes pioneering telecommunication networks that put community needs first.

These communities are following in the footsteps of the publicly owned power networks put in place a century before. We watch history repeat itself as these new networks are actively being built across the country.

Cities like Lafayette, Louisiana, and Monticello, Minnesota, offer the fastest speeds at the lowest rates in the entire country. Kutztown’s network in Pennsylvania has saved the community millions of dollars. Oklahoma City’s massive wireless mesh has helped modernize its municipal agencies. Cities in Utah have created a true broadband market with many independent service providers competing for subscribers. From Washington, DC, to Santa Monica, California, communities have connected schools and municipal facilities, radically increasing broadband capacity without increasing telecom budgets.

Posted September 17, 2010 by christopher

Jackson Energy Authority in Tennessee, long the largest community fiber network in the US, is investing in greater smart-grid capabilities. If you aren't already familiar with this network, an article in Electric Light & Power offers some history:

After receiving local government support and revenue bond issue funding, JEA went ahead with the $54 million project. Now its FTTP network boasts 16,500 cable, 10,843 Internet and 7,000 telephone subscribers. JEA is preparing for the next phase of its FTTP deployment with a smart grid initiative expected to begin in 2010.

The article also makes an important point that many find confusing in understanding the economics of these community fiber networks:

In the early years, JEA focused on subscriber growth as its key performance metric, rather than average revenue per user (ARPU). The capital-intensive cost of acquiring and hooking up new customers, however, can create significant cash flow problems for a network operator, especially when growth substantially exceeds the business plan. JEA had to secure more financing to support its incremental growth. The utility also adjusted its business model to focus instead on ARPU and increasing the number of existing subscribers using two or three services. JEA employed special promotions and service packages that took advantage of the huge bandwidth capabilities of its fiber network to build customer loyalty and overcome the customer churn typical of the industry. Today, JEA’s network has passed more than 30,000 homes, more than 16,000 of which are subscribers.

This is a good example of a community encountering a problem and overcoming it. The article also offers other lessons learned along the way. Moving forward, JEA has decided to work with Tantalus to add smart-grid capabilities to the fiber network.

Posted September 15, 2010 by christopher

This is a follow-up to my coverage of Chattanooga's 1Gbps announcement and press around it.

Firstly, I have to admit I was simultaneously frustrated and amused by reactions to the $350/month price tag for the 1Gbps service, like Russell Nicols' "Chattanooga, Tenn,. Gets Pricey 1 Gbps Broadband."

Wow.

I encourage everyone to call their ISP to ask what 1Gbps would cost. If you get a sales person who knows what 1Gbps is, you will probably get a hearty laugh. These services are rarely available in our communities… and when they are, the cost is measured by thousands to tens of thousands. Chattanooga's offering, though clearly out of the league most of us are willing to pay for residential connections, is quite a deal.

The reaction that it is pricey blows my mind… at $350 for 1Gbps, one is paying $.35 for each megabit. I pay Comcast something like $4.5 for each megabit down and $35 for each megabit up (I actually pay more as I rarely get the speeds advertised).

Make no mistake, Chattanooga's 1Gbps is very modestly priced. And I would not expect many communities to duplicate it. Chattanooga has some unique circumstances that allow it to create this deal; the fact that other community fiber networks around the country cannot match it should not be taken as a knock against them. Ultimately, communities must do what is best for them, not merely try to steal the thunder as the best network in the nation.

But for the folks who have the best network in the nation, I get the idea they have enjoyed the vast coverage of their creation. The Chattanooga Times Free Press ran a lengthy story titled "Fastest on the web."

"We can never overestimate the amount of bandwidth that will be needed in the future," said jon Kinsey, a Chattanooga developer and former mayor who is working with local entrepreneurs to study ways to capitalize on the faster broadband service. "What EPB has set up gives us an opportunity as a community to get into a whole new realm of business growth."

One might expect that the president of the "Information Technology and Innovation Federation" would be interested in the most cutting edge broadband network in the country --...

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Posted September 13, 2010 by christopher

Chattanooga has announced a new level of service, offering 1Gbps to all subscribers in a unique citywide offering. Chattanooga previously led the nation with a 150Mbps tier. Today has been crazy, and lots is being written about this announcement, so I'll highlight stories and saving adding something interesting until later.

A quick reminder, we recently wrote about their insistence on taking fiber to everyone, rural and urban.

The New York Times started the Choo Choo coverage this morning:

Only Hong Kong and a few other cities in the world offer such lightning-fast service, and analysts say Chattanooga will be the first in the United States to do so. “This makes Chattanooga — a midsized city in the South — one of the leading cities in the world in its digital capabilities,” said Ron Littlefield, the city’s mayor.

Ars Technica offers additional perspective (as usual):

The city hopes this will give it a competitive advantage; on the new website promoting the service, the city's Electric Power Board pitches its country-leading broadband as "a test bed for next generation technology," as "the ultimate tool for entrepreneurs," and a place where "bandwidth is no problem." The consistent theme: you should move to Chattanooga.

(It also reminds us that Chattanooga is far beyond the FCC's timid goals in the National Broadband Plan.)

Giga Om has lost the lust for his still-respectable 100Mbps.

EPB says that their 100 Mbps service is now costing $140 a month and the 1 Gbps service will cost $350 a month.

Though Chattanooga has beat Google to the punch, this does little to change Google's goal of even cheaper 1Gbps with open access - the race is not simply to 1Gbps, it is to the future! Those who are putting Google down in some way are grasping for something to say about a stunningly unique offering. Sad to see Google put down in some way merely because they announced their big ambitions.

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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 May 24, 2010 by christopher

According to the local paper, Johnson City, Tennessee, continues to discuss whether its public power utility should build a FTTH network.

As with so many other communities that have only "high speed" cable and DSL options, people are recognizing the importance of broadband on economic development. Local Business leader, Joe Grandy, is the focus of this article:

“Economic development is part of what we’re charged at the Power Board with accomplishing. If the current (broadband) infrastructure is not sufficient to allow economic development to grow this market, something needs to change.”

If the private sector either isn’t willing or isn’t able to create adequate infrastructure, Grandy said, “then an entity such as the Power Board may need to.”

Tennessee cities without publicly owned networks may find themselves in an even tougher bind than similar communities elsewhere. With Jackson, Bristol (TN and VA), Chattanooga, Pulaski, and others, businesses do not have to move far for great networks run by the local public power company.

Grandy, though, “doesn’t think there’s any question” that the Johnson City area will reap the whirlwind, economically speaking, if it fails to scale up local broadband capability. He has been involved in the recent search for a CEO to run the metro area’s new Economic Development Council, and a half-dozen candidates who visited early this month made it abundantly clear that broadband capability is as important an issue today as dependable electricity was 80 years ago.

Public power transformed Tennessee. Publicly owned broadband may be necessary to keep it transformed.

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 March 12, 2010 by christopher

Pulaski's public power provider is building a FTTH network and already seeing efficiency gains on the electrical side of their operations. Pulaski has 15,000 electric customers and 5,000 have been passed by fiber, with 1600 taking telecom services. Like Chattanooga, they are using a combination of wireless and fiber for smart-grid applications. Those who take telecom services are used to aggregate the wireless signals from neighbors who do not have a fiber line to their home. This is a great article to read for those curious about the benefits of smart-grids and how wireless can be successfully combined with fiber backhaul (as well as why wireless alone is insufficient).

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