The city of Chattanooga, Tennessee is home to one of the earliest and most notable examples of fiber optic Internet success stories. In 2010, Chattanooga’s Electric Power Board (EPB), a publicly owned utility company, began installing fiber optic infrastructure throughout the city and offering 1 gigabit per second Internet to its citizens. Since its introduction, Chattanooga has successfully leveraged its fiber optic network to attract new business to the area and deploy an advanced power grid monitoring service. Now, in an effort to close what educators are calling the “homework gap,” the city is taking steps to ensure students in low-income neighborhoods have access to its fiber optic service as well.
Last August, the city launched a program called NetBridge which offers discounted high-speed internet service to households with students who receive free or discounted lunches at school. In conjunction with NetBridge the city also began offering $50 Chromebooks to qualifying students, as well as a class that teaches families basic Internet skills. NetBridge will cost roughly half the price of EPB’s base fiber optic service. In a city where 25,000 children qualify for free or discounted lunches, NetBridge stands to have a big impact on Chattanooga’s low income communities.
“Chattanooga is home to the fastest, cheapest, most pervasive Internet in the Western Hemisphere – and we must make sure as many citizens as possible have access to this game-changing infrastructure,” said Chattanooga mayor Andy Berke in his recent State of the City address. “By working with EPB to provide affordable access to high speed Internet, we will help break down barriers to opportunity and bridge the digital divide for young people across our city.”
Hopefully, as more cities establish municipal fiber optic services, politicians elsewhere will take a similarly egalitarian approach to Internet distribution. We look forward to hearing more stories about cities using fiber optic Internet to improve the lives of their citizens as well.