NASHVILLE — A lobbyist for the state’s cable industry on Wednesday declared all government-owned broadband services in Tennessee to be a failure.
Representatives of the Chattanooga electric utility that recently unveiled the nation’s first 10-gigabit Internet service available to all electric customers begged to differ.
Chattanooga has billed itself as the “Gig City” since its EPB utility began offering 1 gigabit-per-second service about five years ago, which is 40 times faster than the new Federal Communications Commission’s 25-megabit standard for what should be considered broadband.
About one in six Tennesseans lives in areas where Internet service is only available at speeds lower than 25 megabits, said Mike Knotts, director of government affairs for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association.
Movies that take more than about half an hour to download at 25 megabits, would take just 30 seconds at 1 gigabit. And at speeds of 10 gigabits, that movie would be available in 3 seconds.
EBP President Harold DePriest told reporters outside the meeting that he can’t understand why lawmakers won’t allow that service to be offered in outlying areas that are either underserved or completely unserved by broadband.
“Instead of talking about how we get this type of service to people in rural areas in Tennessee, we’re talking about who should do it,” he said. “I don’t think people in rural areas care. I think they would say anybody who could help ought to be allowed to help.”
John Farris of the Tennessee Cable Association urged members of the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations to hold the line against allowing utilities to offer high-speed Internet access beyond their service areas.
The issue is the subject of legislation awaiting lawmakers when they return into session in January and a federal court challenge filed by the state’s attorney general against a Federal Communications Commission decision to override state laws preventing Chattanooga’s super-fast Internet to be offered in outlying areas.
Challenged by panel members about whether there have been any successful municipal broadband projects, Farris said he couldn’t think of any.
“These communities that have gone into this business have done very poorly,” Farris said, citing a failed telecom venture called Memphis Networx that lost the city $28 million in 2007. He also criticized the millions of dollars of debt taken on by utilities in cities like Jackson and Chattanooga to fund their fiber optic infrastructure.
DePriest said that argument ignores the benefits of being able to fund larger projects through long-term debt.
“It’s the same reason you have a 30-year mortgage on your house, instead of a 5-year mortgage,” he said.