It's a bird. It's a plane. It's the nation's fastest community-wide internet service, and it's making its way to a Tennessee city and convention center.
EPB, an internet, TV, phone and energy company in Chattanooga, has launched a community-wide, 25-gigabits-per-second internet service. The service will be available to all residential and commercial customers in the area, and is operated by a 100% fiber optic network, EPB said in a news release on Aug. 24.
"What we have done is basically laid a community-wide fiber to the home and fiber to the business network, so every every premise, home and business has fiber going directly to the facility or the home," said J.Ed. Marston, the company's vice president of strategic communications.
The move comes after EPB first launched its gig-speed internet service in 2010, and then its 10-gig internet service in 2015.
The latest service to launch covers a 600-square mile service area, he said.
Prices start above $1,000 per month for residents
EPB said it'll charge $1,500 per month for residential 25 gig internet service and $12,500 per month for commercial service.
"While 25-gig is available to every business and residential customer in our 600-mile area, it is best utilized today in commercial applications with very high bandwidth needs (hundreds or thousands of simultaneously streaming devices)," wrote EPB public relations specialist Sophie Moore in an email.
The company expects the price to decrease as the rest of the market catches up, she said.
What does 25-gig internet mean for the user?
The first site to have 25-gig service as part of a community wide-network is the Chattanooga Convention Center, EPB announced. It will allow thousands of visitors to connect electronics during events like business conferences, e-gaming competitions and live streaming events.
"People who are attending conferences at the Chattanooga Convention Center ... they won't have that experience that we've all had when you're in a crowded venue and you can't get a signal at all, or it's super slow and dies before you can get to the webpage you want to look at," Marston told USA TODAY.
EPB said its 25-gig internet service comes with symmetrical upload and download speeds. In other words, users will be able to download and upload high resolution pictures and videos without any snags.
The current FCC national standard for broadband bandwidth is 25 megabits per second for downloads and 3 megabits per second for uploads, Steve Corbató, executive director of Link Oregon, a nonprofit that connects public and non-profit sectors to broadband, told USA TODAY.
One gigabit is 1,000 megabits, so updating the standard to one gigabit could lead to a 40 times increase in download speeds and over 300 times an increase in upload speeds, he said.
Corbató thinks the pandemic revealed just how bad internet access is in some communities, and service providers historically haven't taken upstream bandwidth as seriously because they thought of the internet as a way of simply "delivering content."
"The speed of the connection really matters," he said. "It really empowers people to have high-quality video conferences. In terms of telehealth, it allows higher resolution imaging, which is important for remote diagnosis."
A hotbed for internet inclusion
Angela Siefer, executive director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, said Chattanooga has made its Digital Inclusion Trailblazers list every year since they started it in 2016. The list includes local government initiatives that promote digital literacy and broadband access for underserved residents.
The list is based on six indicators, including whether the local government has a digital inclusion plan and has tried to increase affordability of home broadband service. Chattanooga has hit all six indicators, Siefer said.
"They think about it in a way that not everybody does," she said. "(We care) about equitable access to internet, so we don't get really excited about the difference between 10 gig and 25 gig. What we get excited about is everybody having access to whatever it is that they need."
The importance of internet connectivity and fiber optic networks
Corbató, from Link Oregon, said EPB is taking advantage of being the city's electric utility company. They have access to people's houses through electrical feeds.
"By putting the fiber out there, that makes the sort of natural increase in speed that happens as electronics gets faster that much easier," he said. "I think cities that have abundant fiber, and in the case of homes that get fiber to the home, they're going to be in a better position."
He said the the federal government is making a hefty investment in broadband, so similar projects may be popping up in other cities.
Some cities are already making strides to enhance their connectivity, he said, such as Ammon, Idaho. In the 2000s, the city built its own fiber-optic cable network, allowing locals to get internet access for around $9.99 a month, according to U.S. News & World Report.
"It's really important that all Americans get the level of internet connectivity to allow them to participate in digital society and the digital economy," Corbató said.
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