Marshall Memorial Fellowship: Chattanooga – the Gig City
When I received the city assignments for my Marshall Memorial Fellowship Spring 2016 program, I was very surprised to have Chattanooga on my list. I had never heard of Chattanooga, but my lack of expectations allowed me to be constantly surprised by the city.
Surprisingly, Chattanooga is a city with the fastest internet in the western hemisphere, provided by the local municipally owned electricity company – EPB. It was very exciting talking to the company representatives about the success story that has made Chattanooga one of the most progressive cities in the U.S. President Obama has even references Chattanooga several times as an example of how modern technology can transform mid-sized industrial cities. EPB's smart grid and fiber optic network have helped add at least 2,800 jobs and pumped an extra $865.3 million into the local economy over the past four years by cutting power outages, improving data connections, lowering power bills, and attracting businesses. Five years ago, Chattanooga became the first city in the United States to offer up to 1 Gigabits per second Internet speeds, and today it is the first community in the world capable of delivering up to 10 Gigs to all 170,000 households and businesses in its service area. In recent years, the need for faster Internet speeds has increased rapidly, and Chattanooga’s 10-Gig fiber optic network offers a world-class platform for innovation. Chattanooga has become the perfect place for companies to enhance their productivity and test the applications everyone in the country will want tomorrow.
But it’s not only about business. The Mayor of Chattanooga, Mr. Andy Berke, emphasized the social aspect of the city’s technology change, including internet education of older people and provision of discounted rates for students and low-income families. In addition to businesses, citizens benefit from the technological development of Chattanooga.
I was surprised to find that in a country of business and private entrepreneurship, local government can also be the main driver of industrial and technological change. Chattanooga is a great example of how a good idea, paired with enthusiasm and support from local government, can transform an unknown city into a special one.
Juraj Bayer, Chief Financial Officer of Zapadoslovenska energetika in Bratislava, Slovakia, is a Spring 2016 Marshall Memorial Fellow.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.