EPBEPB, the first U.S. company to broadly deploy gigabit service residentially, has put any plans to expand service outside its electric utility service territory on hold, said Danna Bailey, EPB vice president of corporate communications, at a press event at the company headquarters in Chattanooga yesterday. EPB has received requests from surrounding communities, some of whom must rely on dial-up internet, to expand service. Although the FCC earlier this pre-empted a Tennessee law preventing the company from expanding, the state of Tennessee has filed its own suit which argues that the FCC did not have the authority to overturn the state law – and EPB does not plan to expand service until the issue is resolved, Bailey said.

Tennessee laws also prevent EPB from offering home security and similar services, noted Colman Keane, director of fiber technology for EPB, at yesterday’s event. Some other broadband providers have found home automation and security to be logical add-ons to their offerings, but some such offerings are off-limits for EPB.

“We have a team looking at what we can do in the house,” said Keane. He noted, for example, that the company could offer remote control of thermostats over a broadband connection.

Yesterday’s press event, organized by the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce, included bringing journalists to Gig Tank Day and other high-tech venues in Chattanooga. Gig Tank Day, an annual event, showcases startup companies that are pursuing businesses that can benefit from high-speed, low-latency broadband, such as EPB’s gigabit service.

Chattanooga Gigabit
EPB initially launched gigabit service several years ago for $350 a month but the price has come down considerably since then, now running $70 or less if customers purchase service as part of a bundle. The company also offers lower speed tiers and its strategy there has been to increase speeds about once a year without raising price. Whenever the company makes such an upgrade, usage increases, but EPB has been able to plan for it, Keane said.

One important achievement EPB has made that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention is that the company gives customers the ability to make changes to their service such as increasing connection speed in an automated manner through a web portal. Although some network operators plan to achieve that capability using software defined networking, EPB’s application does not use SDN. The company is “playing with” SDN technology, however, Keane said.

Beginning later this year, EPB plans to offer discounted broadband service for low-income families with children who qualify for free or reduced school lunch, EPB executives said. The price is higher than some other providers are offering for similar service — $26 monthly, compared to $10 monthly. But the speed offered also is higher — 100 Mbps versus just a few megabits from some other providers.

EPB also is looking at next-generation PON capable of supporting speeds of 10 Gbps, Keane said. Equipment supporting that capability will be available in about a year, he noted.

Gigabit Benefits
EPB executives also touted some other successes that the gigabit network has had:

  • The smart grid technology that the gigabit network supports has enabled EPB to quickly reroute power when downed trees have interrupted service, automatically restoring service to most customers in just a few minutes. Customers closest to the source of the problem take longer to restore; nevertheless, restoral times are days sooner compared with the previous status quo.
  • Local schools have used gigabit connectivity to Annenburg Labs at the University of Southern California to get students excited about science and technology. The link provided high-speed, low-latency connectivity to a high-resolution microscope connected to 4K video technology, and students in Chattanooga were able to control the microscope in virtual real time.

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