published Friday, August 10th, 2012

David Cook: If you wire it, they will come

It was — forgive the pun — a bit of a disconnect, leaving the highly wired Gig Tank celebration — full of smartphones, venture capitalists and big-ideas from all over the world — and walking out into the downtown streets, where everyday folks who'd forgotten their umbrellas were hustling to lunch, hoping to get indoors before the noontime rain fell.

Did the woman crossing Broad Street realize the significance of the Gig Tank?

Did the barista at the Read House understand the history being made in the Silver Ballroom on the second floor above him?

"I don't have any idea," said Nick Feira, 22, who works at Starbucks.

There are plenty of people -- the ones with crazy-good ideas, eyes for the future and very deep pockets — who do.

"This is a small city -- that a lot of people think of as a second-tier city — reaching for the moon, doing things that Houston, Atlanta and New York haven't done," said Lisa Calhoun. "And you're inviting the world."

Calhoun is CEO of Write2Market, an Atlanta-based PR firm. She came to Chattanooga — like nearly 500 others — to explore the best answers to the very large question: What can we do with the world's fastest Internet?

Having Internet speeds of a gigabit — or gig — has drawn attention from around the world. The Gig Tank — where ideas met investors — was an extension of that.

Leaving Atlanta, Calhoun tweeted about the Gig Tank. Her out-of-the-office email response mentioned Chattanooga and included a link to the live streaming of Thursday's events.

"I would so live in Chattanooga," she said.

There was not another city in North America that could have hosted the Gig Tank competition. Not Google-backed Kansas City. Nowhere in Silicon Valley. Only in gig-wired Chattanooga.

"We're incredibly envious of the fact you have this," said Michael Burcham, president of Nashville-based Startup Tennessee. "If I had the gig in Nashville, I'd be launching all kinds of companies."

Stop there for a moment.

When we consider the future, nearly every aspect of society is wired. The trend is toward innovation, big ideas and intelligence. No company moves to a city that's slow and dumb.

Like a virtual Enterprise South, the gig infrastructure has created the space for things known and unknown to emerge. Established by EPB with a grant from Washington, the creation of the grid was an act of government at its best: serving the common good, pushing society ahead.

So Burcham's comment — about using the gig to start plenty of businesses — is prophetic. In ways immeasurable, our gig infrastructure — and humble open-door attitude, inviting the world to come and see — has set the stage for the world that is to come.

"The kids growing up in Chattanooga need to never know a world without the gig," said Jack Studer of Lamppost Group, who helped create the Gig Tank idea. "There is no excuse for us not having the [downtown] library and every school lit up [with gig access]."

The disconnect between the Gig Tank and everyday citizens may remain for sometime. But not forever. Do you picture a future without the Internet? An unwired world?

Like any good pioneer, we know the direction, not the exact route. Like any good pioneer, we'd much rather be in the front than lagging, dull and bored, in the back.

When we look back in 10 years, we may consider yesterday as a historic day for our city. Hiding behind our Usain Bolt-Internet speed was really something else: the entrepreneurial guts and faith needed for a 21st century American Dream.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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Walden said...

This is not a criticism, but an honest question. If this is such a big deal, why isn't it all over the national (or even international) press? I for one have not seen any major coverage of this. David - would you consider writing an article that explains exactly what "the gig" is, and why it is such a big deal? I would like a good primer on this thing, and how it could impact our community.

August 10, 2012 at 9:40 a.m.
davidcook said...

Thanks for asking. The Gig means Chattanooga has a one gigabit Internet speed, the fastest in the west. Part of the fiber optics and Smart Grid laid down by EPB, the Gig - so many of us hope - will draw attention, businesses and moving-here-people to Chattanooga. The Gig Tank was an attempt to combine innovations and ideas with investors. People came from near and far- one leader with Mozilla - who I tried to get an interview with but failed - was apparently here from San Fran. Everybody was watching to see what could come from this, and while there is a scratch-your-head lack of clarity, most realize we are on the edge of creating the future through super-fast Internet speed. Pretty exciting. It's been covered - the Gig - by plenty of major news, but can't say the same about the Gig Tank. Your thoughts? And any future column ideas you might suggest?

August 10, 2012 at 2:33 p.m.
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