Municipal broadband was the driving force behind Chattanooga's economic revival over the past few years, according to Mayor Andy Berke. A drop in unemployment, a sustained rise in wages and a boost in the manufacturing and tech sectors have all taken place over the last three years, and the city is seeing a minor boom in tech startups.
All from a $330 million initial investment in 2010, The Tennessean reported.
"It changed our conceptions of who we are and what is possible," Berke said in the article. "Before we had never thought of ourselves as a technology city."
Chattanooga's municipal broadband network, EPB Fiber, was one of the pioneering muni broadband efforts to arise around the turn of the decade. Lafayette, Louisiana's LUS Fiber also established a 100 percent fiber network beginning in 2005.
Both cities relied on a combination of federal funds and municipal bonds to establish the networks, and both faced opposition from Tier 1 cable operators in their areas that contended municipal fiber networks were an unnecessary drain on taxpayers.
However, EPB persisted in managing and upgrading its network, and now offers up to 10 GB speeds to both residents and businesses in Chattanooga. It also offers a low-income broadband access program which allows households that have students on free or reduced lunch programs to get broadband for $27 a month.
The city is seeing a return on its investment somewhere between $865.5 million and $1.3 billion in benefits, according to a 2015 LightReading article.
Similar to the way Google Fiber has spurred competitive responses from broadband providers around the country, EPB has likely played a role in network improvements and speed increases from providers like AT&T in the state.
On Wednesday, AT&T released a statement saying that it invested over $1.15 billion in its wired and wireless networks in Tennessee between 2013 and 2015, including the launch of U-Verse and GigaPower, its 1 Gbps initiative, in Nashville and several surrounding communities.
"AT&T's more than 5,700 employees in Tennessee are turning these billions of dollars of investments into high-speed connections for businesses and residents across the state, and we are proud to connect more Tennesseans – in urban and rural areas alike – than anyone else," said Joelle Phillips, president of AT&T Tennessee, in the statement.
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