Despite claims and threats of Big Telcom providing internet service as a public utility does not reduce competition and #GigCity is still an open market.
Sure, Chattanooga, TN., provides internet service – speed as much as 10 gigabytes-per-second, if you’re willing to pay for it – as a public utility through its city-owned electric utility but that doesn’t mean monopoly and Big Telcom still has plenty of customers.
“We have approximately a 55 percent share of the market,” explained John Pless, media spokesperson for Chattanooga’s Electric Power Board, or EPB. “In the other 45 percent of the market internet service is still provided by Comcast, Verizon, the big companies.”
Pless makes the point that even with Net Neutrality in place as U.S. policy EPB still has to compete with Big Telcom for internet customers. Plus, he adds, because EPB is a public utility, governed by a board appointed by the Chattanooga City Council, it is the EPB customers who have final say over its service levels and rates – not a profit-driven corporation.
Just as Big Telcom is now fighting to have the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) roll back its landmark 2015 decision to declare the internet a public utility and, thus, under the regulatory eye of the FCC, Big Telcom fought Chattanooga too. They lobbied. They even sued. The argument was government – publicly owned utilities – should not compete with private industry for internet customers.
The concept is called Net Neutrality and through it, with the internet as a public utility, government can oversee internet service and ensure customers – internet users – are not exploited just as government oversees water/sewer service, electric service and other basic and fundamental services required for living in the 21st Century. But the FCC, under the Trump Administration, wants to end Net Neutrality and give Big Telcom carte blanche to structure internet service in the U.S. any way it wants.
Chattanooga won the fight brought by Big Telcom and today provides an internet utility for over 83,000 customers – homes and businesses. It was the first community in America in 2010 to offer 1-gigabyte internet download speed over fiber optic lines and has become a start-up hub and entrepreneurial center providing new jobs and economic revitalization.
A study completed by the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga (UTC) found the effort behind what became known as #GigCity has so far led to the creation of 3,000 to over 5,000 new jobs in the community and a $1 billion economic infusion. Other entities, such as The GigTank, claim $6 billion in direct investment because of the city’s investment in publicly owned internet service.
Competition, argues the EPB’s Pless, keeps the internet market in Chattanooga on an even keel and Net Neutrality ensures customers get the best internet service they can afford.
Nearly 100 other communities around the nation are also moving toward – or have completed – municipally-owned internet infrastructures and no matter what the FCC does with Net Neutrality the drive toward publicly-owned internet will continue in the U.S.
Eliminating Net Neutrality in America take away protections for hundreds of millions of internet users in America, especially those not lucky enough to live in forward-thinking communities where the internet is seen as a public utility just like water service, sewer service, electric service.
The drive to provide broadband internet for Chattanooga actually began in the mid-1980s when EPB realized it would need to seriously upgrade its aging electric grid.
“It became obvious to us quickly that rebuilding our infrastructure with fiber optic lines was the most cost-effective, most useful way to go,” Pless recounts.
Once the decision was reached to rebuild the electric grid with fiber optics it became clear the city could also eventually offer not only telephone service but cable television, too, and, eventually, high-speed internet.
“The movement toward city-wide broadband internet service actually began in a discussion at our Downtown Kiwanis Club among civic activists,” Pless said.
From that small discussion among civic-minded business owners grew what is today #GigCity.
A bond issue and a $111 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, part of the Economic Stimulus Act of of 2008, paid for the infrastructure rebuild and by 2010 EPB – the City of Chattanooga – was offering 1,000 megabyte-per-second high speed internet service to all its business and residential electric customers.
Since then, #GigCity has resulted in the creation of a boom-town start-up business sector, the creation of thousands of new jobs and an estimated $6 billion business investment infusion into the community. EPB’s internet service has garnered 55 percent of the market in Chattanooga and gaining every day.
Close to 500 other communities around the U.S. are now in the process of considering, designing or building municipal broadband infrastructures and the commercial internet service providers (ISPs) such as Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and others are not happy about it.
But as the example of Chattanooga clearly demonstrates, the internet as a public utility results in reliable, high-speed, unfettered internet service and economic stability – even rapid growth – to communities served by it.