Last December, we wrote about Huntsville, Alabama’s quest to become the next gig city. It wasn’t the next in line after Chattanooga, but when its new network comes online, it may be the best and fastest. Mayor Frank Battle mentioned fiber as an important piece of infrastructure for attracting new businesses to the area, and if Huntsville’s new lure is as shiny as the city claims, they may soon land some whoppers. That bait is a business-oriented 100 Gbps network, so let’s hope this tale isn’t just another fishing story. Too Good to Be True? Actually, the news gets better. Network builder Southern Light will construct a 120-mile fiber loop, and it claims the core of this network will support terabit-speed data transfers. It’s the branches from the main network that will only be capable of the 100-gig download speeds. If the new network delivers as promised, Huntsville could have the fastest Internet in the country. Those unfamiliar with local history might not know that the city was a pioneering community in one of the great technological advances of the last century. Huntsville is home to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, which played a critical role in developing the Saturn V rocket that sent American astronauts to the moon. It may not be a big city, but it’s hardly a backwater. If network building is rocket science, Huntsville has that covered. Trickle-down Connectivity As mentioned earlier, the network will be aimed at commercial subscribers because there’s probably not a lot of market for consumer 100 Gbps plans. It’s not that consumer subscribers wouldn’t want that kind of speed, but the price would likely be prohibitively expensive, at least at first. It’s difficult to imagine what the price tag for this connection would be. That said, Southern Light says it will allow other Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to purchase access to the network, so it’s almost a certainty that at least one ISP will do so and offer consumer service. Assuming that’s the case, there’s no reason to assume the ISP couldn’t make—and this is a phrase we didn’t think we’d ever write—speeds in the low-gigabit range much more affordable. Backup Plans But in case that doesn’t happen for some reason, Huntsville continues to review more than a dozen consumer-oriented responses to its original request for proposals. That request specified gigabit speeds as a requirement, so it looks as if, one way or another, Huntsville residents will soon have a gigabit-capable network. False Modesty “Any bandwidth you see available in Los Angeles or New York or Washington, D.C., will be available here in Huntsville and Madison, on our network,” Southern Light’s CEO Andy Newton said. But that’s not really something to brag about. New York and California don’t have anywhere near this kind of speed. As we said in December, fiber is poised to be the new critical infrastructure for the coming century. If the new network proceeds as planned, residents of our unofficial West Coast and East Coast capitals might need to compare themselves to Huntsville, not the other way around. Odds are, you’re now comparing your own connection to what’s coming to Huntsville. No matter which service provider you have, they probably won’t win that comparison, but that doesn’t mean you have to settle. Enter your zip code below to find out what the best plan in your area is. [zipfinder] Photo Credit: David Ellis/Flikr Once known for its railroads, Chattanooga, TN, now calls itself the Gig City. Huntsville, Alabama’s mayor Frank Battle wants his community to be the next Gig City. Though Battle mentioned Chattanooga as a model of what he wants his city to be, Huntsville won’t provide gigabit fiber through a municipal utility, as Chattanooga does. Instead, Huntsville has published a Request for Proposals (RFP) for potential vendors interested in designing and building a citywide fiber network with target speeds of 100 Mbps to 1 Gbps. Good For Huntsville. What’s it Matter to Peoria? Increased access to better Internet speeds is always good, but this story does offer something for residents of other communities debating adoption of a high-speed network. Battle said, “Electricity, water, sewer and roads are the infrastructure that has taken us to the 21st Century. Fiber is also an important infrastructure component.” And this is why Chattanooga’s history as a railroad town is worth mentioning: before electricity, paved roads, and sewer systems, it was the railroad that served as the infrastructure that marked a community’s potential for growth. Speculators lost and made fortunes guessing at the path of future rail lines, and buying real estate along those routes. A railroad running through town was a lure drawing industries in need of railway transport to the area, and those industries drew others, and so on. As Battle stated, roads and electricity served as a similar lure to industry and workers. Will fiber be the next big draw that brings industry and jobs to a community? Infrastructure is a Lure for Business To know whether gigabit fiber is the infrastructure of the 21st century, we have to know how big a draw it is for business. According to the FCC, Chattanooga’s investment in fiber played a direct role in bringing Volkswagen and Amazon facilities to the city, creating 3,700 jobs. Highland, IL also believes that its gig network will attract business. City Manager Joe Latham said that the ultimate goal behind the project was job creation. It looks as if the idea is working, too. This August, “The Guardian” wrote, “Money is flowing in. Chattanooga has gone from close to zero venture capital in 2009 to more than five organized funds with investable capital over $50m in 2014 … In large part the success is being driven by The Gig.” If analysis from “The Guardian” is correct, then municipal governments have a real interest in making sure that their communities become gig cities. If the gig can bring businesses, jobs, and tax revenue, then there’s not a mayor in the country who’s going to think of fiber as a frivolous luxury, something nice to have but entirely unnecessary. With these opportunities in mind, it seems safe to say that high-speed Internet will be the infrastructure American cities need for the next century. Your Daily Dose of Fiber Fiber is as important for people as it is for business. Odds are you’re not going to pack up and move across the country just so you can get gigabit fiber Internet. But when you are relocating, and you find that of two nearby communities, only one has fiber, which looks more attractive? The Internet speeds are a luxury in some ways, but they also help define a community’s commitment to infrastructure as a whole. Gigabit-equipped schools help students get more done and learn better. even showed a link between ACT test scores and Internet speeds. Living In a Gig City Chattanooga’s character and energy has visibly changed for the better since the fiber network came online. I’d love to tell you what it’s like living with the gig, but as someone who lives just outside the service area, I’m as eager as you are for the service to expand to where I live. Hmm. Maybe this time I should be the one entering my zip code below to find better service in my area. How happy are you with your connection? Image by Luis Parravicini/Flickr [zipfinder]
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