The plan moved forward, and, as it often does, telecom defended the status quo with public relations campaigns. Television ads paid for by the Tennessee Cable Telecommunications Association (Comcast and AT&T are members) took a grim look at the worst-case-scenario."EPB is building a network to be used for cable and internet, at the expense of EPB customers," the narrator of one of the ads says. The ads (and an online petition) warned that EPB's electricity utility would be left to subsidize the fiber network, increasing costs for customers: "That's just wrong." Another ad pointed to a failed government telecom project in Memphis and announced that "EPB is pushing a similar plan, with your money. Let's not repeat the Memphis Mistake."Then, Big Telecom's lawyers came."They sued us four times," Littlefield said. "We finally won."
"Chattanooga didn't have a bad image, it just had no image. The Gig has restored our luster."
The profit is used to pay down the initial loan and to prevent rate hikes for EPB's electric utility—which is the exact opposite of what the telecom industry warned would happen. EPB is now the largest taxpayer in Chattanooga.
"Without fiber in the 21st century, our towns are going to disappear one obituary at a time because the young people can't stay"
Tomorrow Building apartments are available in 3-, 6-, and 12-month leases, and are all-in propositions. They come furnished, with gigabit internet connections, access to "intimate fireside chats with startup champions," potluck dinners, and pub crawls, and commendably do not have a "no sex" rule. Such buildings are common in San Francisco, Williamsburg, and college campuses; they're not really the first thing you think of when you think of smaller Southeastern cities. The Tomorrow Building is the crown jewel of the Lamp Post Group, a venture capital startup incubator based in the city that owns six buildings in the innovation district, because many of the startups it's invested in are beginning to outgrow their office spaces.
"It's forcing very conservative elected officials to have a real heartfelt conversation about what they do with this issue"
"No white horse from Comcast or AT&T or Charter is coming in to help our communities," Bowling said.Time and time again, however, telecom has shown a willingness to compete on both price and service if a better municipal network pops up. Many cities with fiber networks are suddenly seeing massive investment from incumbent telecom providers—often, telecom will increase speeds and drop prices below cost. After Wilson, North Carolina built a fiber network, Time Warner Cable dropped rates within city limits and then, to subsidize the loss, it jacked up prices in neighboring communities, where it still had a monopoly. In Chattanooga, Comcast now offers 2 Gbps connections, which is faster internet than it offers anywhere else in the country.
"What we have right now is not the free market, it's regulations protecting giant corporations, which is the exact definition of crony capitalism"
This, too, is at least partially the result of telecom lobbying. The 1999 law prevents government-owned broadband companies like EPB from offering internet to customers at rates that are less than the actual cost of providing the service, meaning that a new program that subsidizes internet for families that have students enrolled in free- or reduced-price school lunch programs is required to cost at least $27 per month.Comcast has no such restriction, and recently began offering a barebones internet connection package for an introductory rate of $19.99 per month. This package offers speeds of just 10 Mbps, which is 10 times slower than EPB's slowest package and 100 times slower than gig service. Comcast also has a data cap of 1 terabyte in Chattanooga, which it recently raised from 300 gb after many of its customers complained.Whether ratemaking for broadband really makes sense is another question altogether. Power and water are both consumables that can be charged based on how much you use. Fiber internet is essentially an unlimited resource once it's installed. EPB's Bailey says the organization has no trouble with network management, and the main complaints of telecom companies during the net neutrality debate—that certain types of data should be throttled, metered, or charged at different rates—make no sense whatsoever for a fiber network."When you have a fiber network that's only limited by the electronics on each end, you don't have to cap off the traffic that can run back and forth," she said. "You don't have to worry about net neutrality—there's plenty of room for all the traffic. We have no intentions of having data caps."
"When you have a fiber network that's only limited by the electronics on each end. You don't have to worry about net neutrality—there's plenty of room for all the traffic."