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Chattanooga records $2.7bn community benefit from 10 years of its smart city network

Independent research report has documented the benefit since energy and connectivity company EPB built America’s first gig-speed community-wide network.

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Network has helped Chattanooga citizens realise things that weren't previously possible
Network has helped Chattanooga citizens realise things that weren't previously possible

Independent research has documented a $2.69bn in community benefit during the first 10 years since energy and connectivity company EPB built America’s first gig-speed community-wide network and used it to establish an advanced smart grid power distribution system in Chattanooga.

 

The new study was conducted by Bento Lobo, head of the Department of Finance and Economics, at the Rollins College of Business at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

 

Smart city infrastructure

 

David Wade, EPB president and CEO, explained that Chattanooga’s smart city infrastructure was designed as a platform to give its customers the power to do more. “From education and innovation to job creation, it’s amazing to see how our customers are realising possibilities we could only imagine 10 years ago.”

 

The report also examines the pressure and use of the fibre network in the Covid-19 era. In comparing a typical pre-Covid day (March 4, 2020) to a typical Covid day (December 14, 2020), EPB has seen a 75 per centre increase in the total volume of internet bandwidth usage over the course of the day. EPB said that many companies (and schools) have “outsourced” the traffic that once flowed across their internal networks to Chattanooga’s community-wide internet.

 

EPB has also seen a 64 per cent increase in peak bandwidth usage, which still occurs during the prime time hours of the evening and is correlated to more video streaming. Because Chattanooga has a fibre optic network, the community has been able to transition to more intensive internet bandwidth usage utilising in-place infrastructure.

 

Key community benefits from Chattanooga’s advanced infrastructure include:

  • Job creation and retention: the fibre optic infrastructure directly supported the creation and retention of 9,516 jobs which is about 40 per cent of all jobs created in Hamilton County during the study period
  • Lower unemployment rate: according to the study, since Chattanooga’s fibre optic network was deployed, it has helped keep the local unemployment rate lower. This effect has been magnified since the outset of the Covid crisis when fibre optics helped many businesses transition their employees to remote work quickly. According to the latest available numbers from the US Bureau of Labour Statistics, Hamilton County’s unemployment rate was 4.7 per cent in November which is significantly lower than Tennessee’s rate (5.3 per cent) and two percentage points lower than the US unemployment rate (6.7 per cent) for the same period

“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”

  • Bridging the digital divide for education: having Chattanooga’s fibre optic network in place allowed EPB to join with Hamilton County Schools and other local and state partners in launching HCS EdConnect, a fibre optic broadband internet service provided at no charge to economically challenged families with K-12 students. Designed to continue providing the service for at least 10 years, HCS EdConnect represents a lasting solution for bridging the digital divide among students. Currently more than 12,000 students have internet access to continue their studies from home through HCS EdConnect.
  • Reduced power outages: related to the smart grid’s ability to quickly re-route power around storm damage and other problems, the study documents a 40-55 per cent annual decrease in outage minutes providing EPB customers with an average of $26.6m in savings each year by helping them avoid spoilage, lost productivity, and other negative impacts.
  • Decreased environmental damage: the smart grid has helped EPB decrease carbon emissions by 7,900 tons through demand management and reduced truck-miles.
  • $110 million in smart city research: in 2014, the US Department of Energy designated Chattanooga as a Smart Grid Living Laboratory. Since then, EPB has partnered with Oak Ridge National Laboratory and a range of other national and local research partners, like the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Centre for Urban Informatics and Progress, to play a significant role in more than $110 million in smart city research.

“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 fibre 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.”

 

EPB delivers electricity to more than 170,000 homes and businesses across our 600 square mile service area which includes most of Hamilton County as well as parts of surrounding counties in both Tennessee and Georgia.

 

In 2010, EPB Fibre Optics, which offers internet, TV and telephone services, became the first provider in the US to deliver up to 1Gb internet speeds utilising a community-wide fibre optic network which is accessible to every home and business in its service area.

 

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