It looks like EPB Chattanooga is starting to push their fiber to the home (FITH) initiative and start to generate the marketing buzz. And, being a geek, I’m very interested. I perused their (painfully) flash-only web site (http://www.epb.net/fiber) and one thing was adamant — contact them if I had any questions. I did and received a response within 24 hours! Here’s the Q&A:
Me: Will residential customers have real-time (or close to it) access to their electricity usage? Preferably through a web site or maybe even a “customer interface” on the power meters.
EPB: Yes, we fully intend to utilize the communications components of our Smart Grid for functions like Time of Use functions and programs that will give our customers greater control over how and when they use energy. Both website access and direct in-home customer interface have been discussed as viable options.
Me: Will there be any power outages associated with this service? Will customers be notified?
EPB: There will not be power outages associated to the deployment and construction of the fiber optic infrastructure. In the instance of a storm or unplanned outage, customers on EPB’s Fiber to the Home will be affected the same as cable users are today – but one added advantage of a fiber optic Smart Grid is that it will give us the opportunity to respond even quicker, and in some cases even preventing, when an outage occurs.
Me: Do you have an estimated or projected timeline for each area of town? Will this be publicly available? If so, where?
EPB: At this time we have not finalized our deployment schedule. Right now we are building the fiber infrastructure that will make up the backbone of the Smart Grid and engaged in negotiations with content providers and equipment vendors. We will begin to serve our first Fiber to the Home customers early next year (2009). We will go to the areas with the highest density of people first, and then work out. We are planning for a 5 year total buildout – We will build out to 80% of our customer area in the first 3 years, and customers in the most remote parts of our service area by 5 years.
Me: If you are not using a shared or oversubscribed bandwidth model, does that not raise the prices?
EPB: Our current take rate projections do not forecast an increase of bandwidth need higher than what we have accounted for in our business model. Of course, as time progresses we will evaluate our entire system and make the appropriate changes to ensure our customers are not challenged by bandwidth constraints.
Me: Who and what capacity is your upstream bandwidth provider? 50 Mbps is a lot of Internet bandwidth even by today’s standards. Even if customers have a fast connection to EPB, will EPB be able to sustain that connection through the upstream provider? Otherwise, why switch from a service such as Comcast where I have never had a problem spiking my maximum bandwidth capabilities?
EPB: We will provide simultaneous upload and download speeds, and you are correct, that would be speeds up to 50 Mbps if a subscriber chooses that tier of broadband offering. But it also depends on the end users constraints in terms of upload speeds as well. Across our network, both parties will see the benefit in a high upload speed but if you are sending a large file to a friend in New York that is still on dial up, they would not see the benefit in your fiber service. But we can only expect that the backbone of the internet will only get stronger, so those differences in upload/download speeds between users should decrease.
Me: What will the channel line-up be? Will the HD programming be equivalent to or better than Comcast?
EPB: Right now we do not have finalized details on our channel line-up; we are in negotiations now with content providers to decide those specifics. We will offer more channels and more HD channels; And, with a dedicated fiber directly to the customers home that, unlike copper, will not be subject to degradation due to radio interference, superior picture quality.
Me: What sort of set top box do you plan to use?
EPB: Right now we do not have finalized detail on our set top boxes; we are in negotiations now with all major equipment vendors.
Me: Will FITH ever have a non-flash site? It’s difficult to scroll through the text without having to hold the mouse button down and drag the slider. Also, it doesn’t do well for search engine crawlers. Why not let everyone know about FITH instead of just those places where you publish links!
EPB: We are in the process of vendor negotiations for website redesign as well – I will pass your thoughts on to those involved to ensure we have an even more user-friendly website.
I’m not thrilled with the response about their upstream provider. I’m sure they just don’t know for sure yet, but, in the past, they have been known to use less-than-optimal carriers with several problems. However, this is much bigger than any of the EPB Telecom stuff they’ve done in the past, so I’m sure they’ll consider a good provider to stay ahead of the curve.
[UPDATE] I have received word from an a reliable source that EPB’s bandwidth does not suck and should have no problems with FITH. [/UPDATE]