Chattanooga, TN, has a gigabit fiber network that is basically the nation’s poster child for successful public broadband investment. Former FCC chair Tom Wheeler literally held it up as the example of how super-speedy, reliable broadband could transform a community, and should be expanded. So residents are understandably perplexed that Comcast is purporting to have “introduced” gigabit service to the area recently.
Comcast’s recent video promotion and associated Facebook post literally just say, “Introducing gig-speed internet to the city of Chattanooga,” as you can see below:
The thing is, though, Chattanooga’s city-owned utility, EPB, started including symmetrical gigabit connections among its broadband offerings way back in 2010. EPB has continued to improve its services since then, dropping the price for gigabit service down to $70 in 2013.
In 2015, EPB also unveiled a 10 gbps service tier for customers willing and able to pony up $300 a month for it.
In the midst of all this, Comcast announced in April, 2015 that it would bring its ‘Gigabit Pro’ service to Chattanooga. That launch, slated for June, 2015, promised to bring symmetrical 2 gbps connections to an eventual 200,000 area homes — setting itself up as actual competition to the municipal broadband service.
That means, then, that not only is the new Xfinity gigabit plan not the first gigabit service to be “introduced” to Chattanooga — it’s not even the first Comcast gigabit plan to be introduced in the area.
Area consumers have not taken kindly to the new marketing, and are voicing their displeasure with Comcast all over the Facebook post.
“Kind of behind the game a little,” one wrote.
“EPB has had gig speeds for how long now,” wrote another. “You guys are a joke and charge hidden fees, no thanks.”
The mocking continued:
“You guys realize that was already a thing… right?”
“So you finally caught up”
“It’s cute that they use the word introducing. Way to play catch up.”
“Chattanooga is already known as Gig City because of EPB.”
“A few years late and about $200/month overpriced, Comcast.”
“Oh, wow! How awesome, considering EPB has 10 gig speeds now.”
Comcast tells the Chattanooga Times Free Press that all the backlash is due to a simple misunderstanding.
“Comcast’s recent advertisement on Facebook was intended to remind customers in Chattanooga that our 1-gigabit internet service is now available in their area,” Alex Horwitz, vice president for public relations at Comcast, told the Times Free Press. “The service is offered via cable modem technology, which makes Chattanooga one of the first markets in the nation to enjoy this new service.”
Whether any customer will want to enjoy that new service, though, is a separate issue.
“When Comcast raised prices back in 2015, EPB was lowering them and simplified it services,” one area customer wrote to the Xfinity Facebook page.
“When Comcast says $70, they only say for a limited time and then up the prices in their contract, EPB has a flat price based on speed. Comcast caps data, EPB doesn’t care. EPB isn’t in as wide of an area, because other network providers wanted to limit its reach and have funded political efforts to do just that. … [EPB has] earned my dollar.”
The “political efforts” the customer refers to have to do with how limited EPB is in rolling out their service to a wider area. Tennessee is one of the dozens of states with a law on the books blocking or restricting public entities, like cities or counties, from creating or expanding municipally-owned broadband networks.
EPB announced a plan to expand its network in 2014, and in 2015 the FCC voted to allow the network to do so, pre-empting state law. However, states and industry immediately sued, and, after the back-and-forth of court battles, the FCC ultimately lost the fight in August, 2016, and an effort backed by Comcast and AT&T eventually killed the EPB expansion for good.