10-Year-Old Community Fiber Network Records $2.69 Billion in Benefits


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Ten years ago, energy and connectivity company EPB built America’s first gig-speed community-wide network, establishing an advanced smart grid power distribution system in Chattanooga, TN, reported Smart Cities World. Recently, Rollins College of Business at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga released independent research documenting the network’s benefits, to the tune of $2.69 billion.

According to EPB President/CEO David Wade, “From education and innovation to job creation, it’s amazing to see how our customers are realizing possibilities we could only imagine 10 years ago.”

The study, conducted by Dr. Bento Lobo, head of the Department of Finance and Economics, examined the pressure and use of the fiber network during the pandemic. EPB compared a typical pre-COVID day (March 4, 2020) to a typical COVID day (December 14, 2020) and saw a 75 percent increase in the total volume of internet bandwidth usage, reported Smart Cities World. The company has also seen businesses and schools outsourcing traffic from internal networks to the community-wide internet over the last ten months.  

EPB delivers electricity to more than 170,000 homes and businesses across a 600 square mile service area. In 2010, EPB said it became the first provider in the U.S. to deliver up to 1Gb internet speeds utilizing a community-wide fiber optic network, accessible to every home and business in its service area.

According to Smart Cities World, key benefits from the infrastructure include:

  • Job creation and retention of 9,516 jobs during the study period.
  • Keeping the local unemployment rate (4.7 percent) below the state (5.3 percent) and US (6.7 percent) averages and enabling companies to transition to remote work during the pandemic. 
  • Bridging the digital divide for Hamilton County Schools with the HCS EdConnect broadband internet service, free to economically challenged families with K-12 students. Over 12,000 students are currently enrolled in the program.
  • Reduced power outages equate to a 40-55 percent annual decrease in outage minutes, providing EPB customers with an average of $26.6 million in savings each year.
  • Decreased environmental damage allowed EPB to reduce carbon emissions by 7,900 tons.
  • Investing $110 million in smart city research since 2014 when Chattanooga was deemed a Smart Grid Living Laboratory.

“The true economic value of the fiber optic infrastructure for EPB’s customers is much greater than the cost of installing and maintaining the infrastructure,” said Dr. Lobo. “Our latest research findings show that Chattanooga’s fiber-optic network provides additional value because it provides high speeds, with symmetrical uploads and downloads, and a high degree of network responsiveness, which are necessary for the smart grid and other cutting-edge business, educational, and research applications.”

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