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Chattanooga’s Public Broadband Network



There are things out there which work. Fortunately, otherwise we’d not have reached this astonishing level of wealth that we so enjoy. But as and when we try to do more of the things that work, less of those that don;t, it’s necessary to work out what is it that is working.

No, not just in the sense of, well, the National Health Service works in that people get medical treatment – slow and late as it might be. No, what we want to know is which portion is it of the NHS which works? What’s the reason it works? Or, of course, doesn’t.

So it is with this laudation of Chattanooga’s public fibreoptic network:

There exists a place where a government entity, bolstered by public funds, laid more than 600 miles of fiber-optic cable, connecting to every home and business in its service area. For more than a decade, this network has provided internet, voice, and video services to customers. It’s one of the fastest internet service providers in the world, with speeds up to 10 gigabits per second. It has enhanced local economic development, while offering no-cost service to families who need it most.

At this point, you no doubt believe we are talking about some utopia far from our shores, in Korea or Scandinavia. But no, this place exists right here in the United States, in the heart of “red” America: Chattanooga, Tennessee.

How very cool. OK, so, why is it that it works?

AN IMPORTANT FACET OF THE EPB fiber network is its status as just one choice in the marketplace for broadband. Although it is operated by a governmental authority, no consumer is compelled to use it. Other providers continue to compete—Comcast entered with its own high-speed offering in 2017—but every home and business has access to EPB if they choose it.

Isn’t that interesting? It’s not actually that it’s public, nor that it runs alongside the electricity lines (that would be good for anyone’s network) or that it’s well, any of the things that are likely to be lauded.

What’s making it work here is competition. This is one provider in a marketplace. The competition between different providers is what drives up offerings and standards.

This is not, in fact, a story about how lovely a public network is. It’s a story about the marvels of market competition.

Which has always been the problem with the American broadband network. It’s a mosaic of private monopolies. The general method is that the one company is offered the rights to wire up an area. Competition from another player – using the same tech, so mobile internet can compete with fibre, but two fibre providers is generally not allowed – tends to be banned in the original contractual set up.

Change that – have market competition between fibre suppliers – and we gain the benefits Chattanooga enjoys.

Presumably The American Prospect will have to change this article once they realise they’re promoting free markets. But for the moment let us all just enjoy the proof.

This is the competitive model that conservatives claim to admire. Different providers, with different strengths, competing to provide a good valued by consumers.

Yep. Gonna change a whole lot of progressive policies that idea…..



  1. In the US municipalities shot themselves in the foot with new services. Broadband today, but it was TV several decades ago. Citizens demanded access to TV that could then only be provided by Cable through CATV systems. The access to poles and right-of-way belonged to the cities. As politicians do, they demanded exorbitant fees for the use of those facilities. Only if a supplier could get the entire city was it feasible to wire up the place and provide the service. The cities purposefully limited competition. They did encourage corruption, however. So, a few decades later we’re talking broadband, in the form of fiber cable. Same issue with access to right-of-way, poles, etc. That a city, not paying taxes, borrowing at muny tax-free rates, receiving million of federal dollars with little oversight cannot either compete with a commercial enterprise or keep them out of the market is not a reason for a celebration. It will fail in due course. Momentum and developments in the private sector will sooner or later make the municipal system outmoded, redundant or too expensive. Most of these activities take decades to implode but it’ll happen.


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