Chattanooga: the fibre-optic wild west
Publicly funded broadband is turning US backwoods towns into virtual metropolises. Who’s for some socialist Wi-Fi?
Stateside by Chris Smith
So, how’s the National Broadband Network’s rollout going? Not so well, I hear, but in the States there’s the start of something big. It’s like a new gold rush, or the second-coming railroads that tamed the young, raw America, and it’s born out of the same mix of community spirit and rapacious capitalism that forged the USA.
If you’re brave enough to endorse the merits of socialism, or even social democracy, in the United States, you should probably be wearing some sort of protective clothing or be able to run really fast. Even the President’s been deemed a filthy commie for seeking to raise taxes on the richest and bring in universal healthcare.
However, in one part of the country, they’re proving that a little collective effort for the greater good can help to transform completely a city that was once dubbed “the dirtiest in America” – a title for which there’s no shortage of competition, we should add – into a bustling hub of tech innovation.
A few years back in the mid-sized Tennessee city of Chattanooga – formerly most famous for its, er, “choo-choo” – the local power board built a smart electricity grid that enabled the rollout of a publicly funded fibre-optic broadband network. It offered Gigabit speed to businesses and residents, at cost, beating the funded-upthe-ass Google Fibre initiative to the punch and even surviving legal challenges from national behemoth Comcast.
Today, for just US$70 a month Chattanoogans within a 1,000km radius, including those in the most rural counties, can harness speeds over 100 times faster than the 2013 US national average of 9.8Mbps. It is – whisper it – socialised hyper-fast internet.
Chattanooga, or Gig City, as it’s since been dubbed, has attracted a wealth of new businesses eager to jump on board the hyper-fast infrastructure. Some are choosing to set up in the region, others are shifting the 100-odd miles south from Knoxville, a larger and previously more renowned city. Like all good start-upfriendly cities, it hosts an annual incubator, too, with Gig Tank offering support and mentoring to innovators in the 3D printing and healthcare sectors.
So, just as with the railroads and the highways, fast internet is proving pivotal to the industrial prosperity of a town and its citizens. The ability to send and receive massive files super fast is becoming as important as transport links.
It makes you wonder, doesn’t it? With many areas around Australia still waiting for the arrival of decent internet speeds, could more cities take their digital fate into their own hands and get a jumpstart on the rest?
With cutting-edge web infrastructure, perhaps smaller towns looking to generate something of a reboot could follow Chattanooga’s example and lure people away from bigger towns nearby.
It would certainly be one way of preventing Australia’s handful of large cities from overcrowding. Plus, the rent’s cheaper, the air’s cleaner and, you need never fear having to wait while your Netflix stream buffers ever again.