Chattanooga Choo-Choos to Gigabit Broadband

The city of Chattanooga has beaten Google to provide a 1 gigabit broadband service. But while Google is planning to one day offer such services at rates comparable to “regular” broadband, the Chattanooga deal is available today for an eyewatering $350 per month.

The service comes from the publicly owned Chattanooga Electric Power Board and will come through a fiber-optic network. The super speed service (which also comes with enhanced TV, phone and internet services) is part of a longstanding wider project to build a smart electronic grid that manages demand for electricity in the area, for example by better coping with local surges. That project received a major boost with a $111 million grant from the Department of Energy.

All 100,000 homes and businesses in the area will be able to access any of four high-speed packages: 30Mbps for $57.99 a month, 50Mbps for $69.99, 100 Mbps for $139.99 and 1 Gbps for $350. Unlike ADSL broadband, the speeds are for both downloading and uploading.

While it’s fun to daydream about sitting in your bedroom with near-instantaneous downloads, it’s clear that the real target is going to be businesses. If you’ve got 50 employees using computers in an office, the top-tier service will effectively give them all 20Mbps internet connections (provided that they all use it at the same time) for $7 a head per month. That’s not necessarily a positive if they are simply goofing about on YouTube, but for something like a graphic design company it could be a benefit.

Judging by several reports, though, it appears the board isn’t all that sure how much a gigabit service should cost subscribers, so prices may change depending on demand. It certainly appears the top speed package is there mainly because it was technically possible rather than a purely commercial operation.

Earlier this year, Google announced plans to test a 1 gigabit service in several smaller cities. It says it has received applications from “hundreds of communities and hundreds of thousands of individuals.” They include Topeka, Kansas, which officially changed its name to “Google, Kansas” during March, prompting an April Fool’s joke from Google, which claimed to have returned the gesture.