Highlighting the Face(s) of Community Broadband Success: Chattanooga, TN

Kicking off my two-day broadband site visit in Chattanooga to experience EPB’s (the public utility) community broadband network.

This promises to be a pretty eye-opening experience, even for the guy who wrote the book on community broadband. You can hear about it, read about it, debate about it. But I’ve found that until you’ve spent time in a community that has broadband, particularly highspeed fiber, you don’t get the true feel of its impact.

You have to meet the people and witness the organizations using broadband to transform their communities and institutions. It’s a powerful experience talking to community leaders and just plain folks to understand the change from the days when they couldn’t get incumbents to deploy the kind of broadband that would give businesses a leg up. Or open the doors of opportunity for young people desperately wanting to be part of the new digital world order.

If your community is contemplating a broadband network, or are taking the first serious steps forward, you have to make one of these site visits. It will give you a major leg up getting your efforts off the ground. Communities such as Chattanooga, one of the over 130 cities and counties that are getting broadband done, have an incredible amount of knowledge, insight and experience to share.

During these next two days I’m meeting with local company executives to get their take on the impact EPB’s network has had on their bottom line. I’m taking a driving and a walking tour of the city. Your broadband project team needs that kind of perspective to get the feel of a community as well as determine where there are similarities and differences between your town or county and theirs.

I’ll be meeting later with EPB senior officials. I’m particularly looking forward to this event because I want to try to get to the heart of why there is reluctance among many utilities to pursue broadband beyond smart grid when clearly EPB is pushing the full range of broadband services.

There’s also time set aside to meet with the Chamber of Commerce. This should be interesting. To hear the telcos and cable company opponents of muni networks, anything the government touches is the scourge of business. But Chattanooga’s Chamber devotes a whole lot of resources to promoting the city’s public network.

Topping off the visit are meetings with the Mayor and city CIO. For years I’ve advised that you have to have the full-throated, deep-in-the-trenches support of the city or county administration if your broadband network is to be successful. I’m curious to hear what advice and encouragement they have for their counterparts in other communities.

All in all, I expect to gather lots of material for future writing on the subject. I’ve made similar trips to Riverside and CA, Salisbury, NC, and have been invited to visit several other communities. Every trip broadens my knowledge and understanding of community broadband, as well as yours as you read my “travel notes.”

Schedule your own site visit soon. There’s a lot to be learned and a lot to do. Let’s get to it!

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