You know that idea I recently pitched about piggybacking a municipal high-speed fiber-optic broadband service on top of Seattle City Light's coming smart meter rollout? Well it turns out that Chattanooga, Tennessee's Electric Power Board has done exactly that:
EPB is one of the first community-owned utilities to install a 100% fiber-optic network, which uses the fiber optic network for Smart Grid applications, in addition to the triple-play media services (i.e., high speed Internet, video and telephone) EPB already provides.
David Wade, EPB’s Executive Vice President and COO, says that “The broadband communications network will enable EPB’s electric system to be intelligent, interactive, and self-healing – helping us to reduce customer outage minutes by 40%, provide our customers with the at-home tools and resources that will allow them to manage their energy use, increase power quality and much more.”
Virtually unlimited bandwidth gives EPB lightning-fast, two-way communications with every device in its distribution system. While a network this robust is overkill for metering, EPB realized that fiber is essential for tightly coordinated load shedding activities, for the split second responsiveness required in distribution automation and, for a virtual real-time energy management tool for customers.
EPB offers its 170,000 customers 1 Gb (up/down) Internet service for only $69.99 a month—less than Comcast charges for one-twentieth the speed. Comcast argues that there's little demand for the 100 Mbps service it already offers in Seattle, but then that might have something to do with the $115 a month price.
The point is, Chattanooga provides a working example of a city-owned power utility leveraging a smart meter rollout to deliver affordable high-speed Internet, TV, and voice service over a state-of-the-art fiber optic network. The technology hadn't yet caught up with EPB's vision when it started planning Chattanooga's network. But the technology is clearly there now. And Seattle would be crazy not to at least explore taking advantage of this once in forever opportunity.