Tag: "EPB"

Posted September 1, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

This week on the podcast Christopher talks with Jill Levine, Chief of Innovation and Choice at Hamilton County Schools in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Evan Freeman, Director of Government Relations at the city’s municipal electric and fiber utility, EPB, and Deb Socia, President of the Enterprise Center.

Together, the group discusses the recent landmark announcement by Hamilton County Schools of HCS EdConnect, in which the schools, local government, EPB, and local stakeholders and philanthropic organizations have come together and made it possible to connect all school children on free or reduced lunch programs in the district to free 100 Mbps symmetrical Internet access for the next ten years. The initiative will include not only 32,000 students but their families as well, and is the first of its kind in the United States — a success story at using a city-wide network to bridge the digital divide for economically disadvantaged students, and a decisive move to respond to unequal Internet access during a worldwide public health crisis.

Jill, Evan, and Deb discuss the challenges of setting up the partnerships that made it happen, overcoming obstacles — including dealing with tens of thousands of new customers with unique skills and needs — and how they managed to pull it off.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show; please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

Read the transcript for this episode.

This show is 31 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

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Posted July 30, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

Yesterday in an announcement via livestream, the city of Chattanooga, Tennessee, Hamilton County Schools, and the fiber arm of municipal utility Electric Power Board (EPB) announced a partnership to provide free Internet access and hardware to the 17,700 homes with school children on free or reduced lunch programs in the county. Called HCS EdConnect, the initiative will be the first of its kind in the United States — a success story at using a city-wide network to bridge the digital divide for economically disadvantaged students, and a decisive move to respond to unequal Internet access during a worldwide public health crisis.

Creative Thinking and Public-Private Partnerships

This is a watershed moment for the city of Chattanooga and its residents. It’s the result of hard work by a coalition of public and private partners, including the city, the school district, EPB, area nonprofit The Enterprise Center, and a host of others. Once completed, the program will connect more than 32,000 students. Those households who already received EPB’s low-cost service (called NetBridge) will be eligible for the program as well, and the group is looking at ways to connect the hundred or so homes currently not in EPB’s service area. A goal of early January has been set.

In total, the connection effort will cost $8.2 million to complete, with $6 million already raised. $1 million each has been contributed by Hamilton County Schools, the Smart City Collaborative, and Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Tennessee. The county and the city of Chattanooga have likewise chipped in $1.5 million. 

"Thanks to support, all children in Hamilton County will have tools and the opportunity they need to engage in equitable learning," said Deb Socia, CEO, The Enterprise Center

“Families and students need high-speed broadband for schoolwork, exploration, and innovation,” said...

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Posted June 30, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

This week on the Community Broadband Bits podcast, Christopher talks to Deb Socia, President and CEO, and Geoff Millener, Senior Program and Operations Officer of The Enterprise Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Deb and Geoff share the breadth and depth of the work they’ve been doing recently to advance digital inclusion efforts and respond to the Covid-19 pandemic in ways that help the local community.

They tell Christopher about The Enterprise Center’s three-prong approach: the Chattanooga Smart Community Collaborative, which works to ensure that smart-city infrastructure is responsive to the needs of citizens; their work in the innovation district to help entrepreneurs build networks and create opportunities for getting access to capital; and finally, their Tech Goes Home initiative, which offers digital literacy courses and discounted hardware in pursuit of lowering the barriers to Internet access and inclusion.

Restaurants and churches around the country have been hit particularly hard by stay home orders and the other public health responses put into place to combat the transmission of the coronavirus, and Deb and Geoff describe the approach they’ve taken in Chattanooga. By finding trusted partners in local communities and leveraging their expertise and relationships with entities like EPB Fiber (the city’s municipal fiber network) Deb, Geoff, and their colleagues have helped small restaurant owners and church leaders get online and get the word out so that the local economy better weathers the storm and people can continue their faith traditions.

Finally, in this episode Christopher, Deb, and Geoff discuss the strides being taken in telehealth and telemental health in order to ensure more equitable opportunities and outcomes. They talk about the advantages to vulnerable populations, the potential savings to Medicare and Medicaid, and the wealth of opportunities for medical care related to aging in place, addiction recovery, palliative care, and removing the stigma of seeking mental health services.

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Posted June 23, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

This is the tenth year that PCMag has conducted its Fastest Internet Service Providers (ISPs) test, and it comes at a time when tens of millions more Americans across the country are working from home. This time, the results show two significant categories of winners — municipal networks and private-sector ISPs using publicly owned fiber or conduit — which  says a lot about the state of high-speed Internet. Like last year, municipal networks and their private sector partners along with locally-owned providers dominated the rankings.

PCMag’s methodology doesn’t seem to have changed much in 2020. Using a customized tool, the outlet tests ping, jitter, and per-second data throughput on the download and upload side of things. The results are weighted 80% towards download and 20% towards upload. From June 1st to June 2nd, 443,940 tests were completed, with the magazine ruling out non-U.S. benchmarks for a final aggregation of 358,358 tests. The minimum threshold to earn a place on the list is 100 tests, and PCMag breaks down the results in two major categories: Fastest Major ISP (those with at least a million subscribers) and Fastest Overall ISP. Read the full report here.

PC Mag Fastest ISPs

Cedar Falls Utilities Dominates

The biggest news is that municipal network Cedar Falls Utilities (CFU) took the top spot as Fastest ISP in America by a wide margin. Founded in 1994, CFU connected its first broadband customer in 1996 and completed its Fiber-to-the-Home upgrade for all subscribers in 2013. That year, the city of 41,000 became Iowa’s first Gigabit City. Today, the utility serves around 15,000 homes and businesses. CFU has also been in the news recently after announcing a 10 Gigabit-per-second (Gbps) symmetrical tier for $105/month for city residents and $110 for those living in rural areas of its service footprint. They have also been doing their part to close the homework gap by offering 15 Mbps Internet...

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Posted March 26, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Visitors to libraries across the country are being greeted with signs declaring, “Library Closed,” in an attempt to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. But increasingly, those words are followed by the ones seen outside Schlow Centre Region Library in State College, Pennsylvania: “Park for Free Wi-Fi.”

As the Covid-19 outbreak pushes almost all daily functions online, libraries, schools, and Internet service providers (ISPs) are finding themselves on the front lines of responding to their communities’ connectivity needs — especially those of students. Nationwide, these broadband first responders are working rapidly to open and deploy public Wi-Fi hotspots that families can access from the safety of their parked cars.

Even before the current crisis, the “homework gap” meant that 7 million school-age children did not have Internet access at home, hampering their ability to get an education. Now, the digital divide is being thrown into even starker relief, as students struggle to access online classes and school districts grapple with equity concerns.

Though it isn’t a permanent solution to the homework gap, these community institutions and providers hope that the emergency Wi-Fi access will give students on the wrong side of the divide a chance to learn while schools are shut down.

Students Trade Desks for Cars

Earlier this week, the American Library Association (ALA) recommended that libraries leave their Wi-Fi turned on and accessible while facilities are closed. In a press release, ALA stated:

America’s 16,557 public library locations are essential nodes in our nation’s digital safety net . . . The COVID-19 Pandemic is disrupting this safety net and spotlighting the persistent digital gaps for more than 20 million people in the United States, including millions of school-age children and college students...

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Posted December 30, 2019 by lgonzalez

When it comes to opportunity for startups, the folks at Inc. Magazine turned to Startup Genome, an innovation policy company that examines important factors to develop its Surge Cities index. Startup Genome looked at seven of the most important indicators, including seed funding and job creation, and created a top-50 list of places most friendly for startups. Chattanooga came in at 36 on the list, mostly due to its fiber optic network.

Inc.com described Chattanooga as the Gig City "where approachability meets opportunity" and went on to write:

In 2010, Chattanooga became the first U.S. city to offer inexpensive gigabit-speed internet to all of its residents. Since then, the Tennessean city's economy has flourished, entrepreneurial activity has spiked, and resources for startups have proliferated. These include the Company Lab, a nonprofit accelerator that hosts Chattanooga’s annual Startup Week, and the INCubator, a massive 127,000-square-foot complex currently housing 55 startups, including 3-D printed builder Branch Technology, which has $9.5 million in funding. Today, it ranks 25th in the country for net business creation. Entrepreneurs are also drawn to the area because of its big city culture and small town vibe, says Alexis Willis, director of small business and entrepreneurship at the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce. “Hearing about Chattanooga's [high-speed] internet may have brought them here, but then they’re like, ‘I want to move my whole family here’ and they end up sticking around,” she says. --Cameron Albert-Deitch

According to the Executive Director of CO.LAB Marcus Shaw, the EPB Fiber Optic network turned a congenial city into one roaring for entrepreneurs. "The gig was the impetus for this next generation of entrepreneurship," Shaw said. "This modern era of entrepreneurship is less than 10 years old, and where we've come in 10 years is phenomenal."

CO.LAB works with startups, offering courses on the information and skills that help innovators breed success in new endeavors.

Startup Genome looked at these factors when considering what cities made the list:

  • Job Creation
  • Population Growth
  • Net Business Creation
  • Rate of Entrepreneurship
  • Wage Growth
  • High-...
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Posted August 7, 2019 by lgonzalez

In the Internet access industry, large corporations typically fight to maintain their positions as monopolies. Even if they have no intention of serving certain communities, big cable and telecom companies work to prevent others from gaining a foothold, fearful that they may someday lose subscribers. On the other hand, municipalities that operate publicly owned networks often encourage, mentor, and collaborate with neighboring communities to get people connected. Now, EPB Fiber Optics in Chattanooga is partnering with municipalities and cooperatives interested in offering Internet access.

Working Past Restrictions

Tennessee still prevents municipal power utilities from offering telecommunications services beyond their electric service areas, but state law won’t deter EPB Fiber Optics from doing what they can. Recently, EPB Vice President of Marketing J. Ed Marsten spoke with Telecompetitor. “We’re partnering with some other municipal and cooperative providers to help them get into the business,” Marston said. “We’ve seen a ton of interest.”

EPB Fiber Optics is offering a range of services to potential utility partners as a way to bring better connectivity to more Tennesseans. In addition to consulting services, the utility may be able to provide transport to an Internet point of presence (POP) and offers tech support. When municipalities or cooperatives work with EPB and use Chattanooga’s staff, they can cut operating costs and reduce the time it takes to begin offering services.

In Massachusetts, Westfield Gas+Electric (WG+E) offers similar services to the nearby rural towns that lack high-quality Internet access. Westfield’s Whip City Fiber, however, is not precluded from offering Internet access via local public infrastructure. Like EPB, WG+E also offers consulting services, if municipalities choose to operate their own networks.

Publicly Minded Moves…So Many

Earlier this year, EPB tripled the speed of their most popular service from 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) symmetrical to 300 Mbps with no price increase. They also decided to drop the price of gigabit...

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Posted October 26, 2018 by lgonzalez

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:

"Our fiber optic network is today's locomotive that is driving Chattanooga's success and positioning us as a model for other communities. It is a powerful recruiting tool to attract new businesses that need reliable, high quality power and communications, as well as a catalyst for launching startups and expanding our existing...

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Posted August 31, 2018 by lgonzalez

Consumer Reports (CR) has once again gone straight to the source to collect opinions on subscribers’ experiences with their Internet access, telephone, and pay TV services. Unsurprisingly, a vast majority of respondents to their survey of 176,000 people expressed dissatisfaction with the large national providers. Once again, municipal network Chattanooga EPB Fiber walked away as the only Internet service provider to receive top marks for value, speed, and reliability.

This isn’t the first time the Tennessee publicly owned network appeared at or near the top of the list in a customer satisfaction survey. In addition to consistent high scores on CR surveys, EPB Fiber has also earned kudos from J. D. Power.

After Chattanooga EPB Fiber, Google Fiber was the only private sector ISP to garner a positive rating from subscribers. Google Fiber also obtained a favorable score for value.

Bigger is Better (Not!)

The most recent survey from CR also underscored what many Internet access, pay TV, and telephone subscribers keep expressing year after year — that they despise the big, corporate behemoth providers. When it comes to Internet access, smaller cable ISPs fared a little better, but only Armstrong Cable Company, serving communities in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and four other states, received an “overall satisfaction” rating.

RCN, Hawaiian Telecom, and Grande Communications also did better than the large ISPs, including Comcast, Spectrum, and Cox Communications.

Hiding Fees in the Bundles

According to a CR article on their survey and analysis of the results, approximately 75 percent of subscribers answering the survey needed to bundle TV, Internet access, and telephone to obtain what they thought was the best deal. Subscribers reported that, even though they had to continually haggle for acceptable pricing, they still felt overcharged.

One of the most prominent areas of complaint from subscribers who answered the survey, dealt with hidden fees, unexplained increased, and confusing bills....

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Posted July 20, 2018 by Hannah Bonestroo

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.

Major Savings

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...

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