When you think of the latest in high-tech, you think of Silicon Valley in California, maybe Route 128 in Massachusetts or Bangalore in India. You probably don’t think of Chattanooga, Tenn.; I know I didn’t. Note the use of the past tense.
Chattanooga is home to the fastest city-wide Internet in the U.S. It sends data from point A to point B at the rate of one gigabit-per-second. What exactly does that mean? Consider a two-hour long HD movie, a film that takes up 4 GB. At one gigabit, you’d think it would take four seconds, but computers are never that easy. The speed is an estimate, and the speed of your fiber or cable will be affected by your connection — things like line quality and modem/ISP bandwidth that keeps your Internet line open.
However, even with all of those provisos, that movie will download in about 25 seconds at 1 gig. At 100 megabits per second, which is still pretty damn fast by today’s standards, you’re looking at 4.5 minutes. Broadband at 10 megabits per second would take an hour.
Not only does Chattanooga have a blazing-fast Internet service, but it also has a smart grid. However, it is more than a smart grid. Robert Bell, co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum, said, “The Smart Grid as we talk about it is not the smart grid [Chattanooga is] pioneering. They’re pioneering something that could be revolutionary in terms of electric generation and distribution, and that is going to become a center of excellence.”
Just how flexible, versatile and powerful is this combination? “In the Spring of 2011, the largest tornadic storm in U.S. history hit the Southeast, leaving tragic devastation in its path. Even though EPB’s Smart Grid has only been activated across half of the system, it demonstrated the benefits that it will bring to our community.
“From every part of the system where our Smart Grid equipment has already been activated, we were able to access data that helped us determine whether there were outages.
“And in many cases, the Smart Grid was able to reroute power around problems. Isolating outages and routing around it, so that companies experienced zero down time. So their business functions could remain fully operational — and so EPB could focus resources on bringing power back to other areas on the system, that needed help the most.”
EPB is Chattanooga’s Electric Power Board, a municipally owned utility. Yes, my little capitalist friends, a slow, clunky city bureaucracy has built in Chattanooga something that the private sector is still working on elsewhere.
The reason is simple: The private sector has no interest in building fiber out that is this fast. “I can’t imagine a for-profit company doing what they are doing in Chattanooga, because it’s so far ahead of where the market is,” said Robert D. Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a nonpartisan research group.
Verizon doesn’t have to deploy state of the art technology; it just has to deploy a network faster than its competitors. As a result, the U.S. has the 8th fastest Internet access compared to other countries at 7.4 Mbps. South Korea is fastest at 14 Mbps. If Chattanooga were independent, it would have the fastest access in the world by a factor of about 9.
“Chattanooga is what the Internet will look like in 10 years. We’re 10 times faster 10 years sooner than the goals established in the National Broadband Plan,” said Harold DePriest, president of the EPB.
Hey, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, you listening?
Jeff Myhre is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.