published Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

Cook: See Gig City

On Tuesday, we had the fastest Internet on the planet. We were Dale Jr. on fiber optics; everybody else, the Ingalls family.

"Two gigs," said Daniel Millbank, director of education technology at Girls Preparatory School. "I don't know of any other place that has two gigs right now."

For the third annual Gig Tank Demo Day -- held for the first time at GPS -- our city's EPB double-downed on its gigabit Internet, sending bandwidth at not one but two gigabits-per-seconds onto campus.

One gig was devoted entirely to live-streaming the day's events.

The other? It became a virtual play world available to the hundreds of thinkers, techno-futurists, entrepreneurs, angel investors, students and businessfolk who arrived on campus, searching for a clearer vision of a faster future.

It's one of my favorite days of the year. Half the time, I have no idea what people are talking about -- it's not you, it's me -- but I go weak in the knees over that collective and electric buzz that happens when entrepreneurs and smart people gather to talk about the future.

There were panel conversations on disruptive industries and health care. Another on 3-D printing. A third on the future of energy and smart grids. In that one, somebody asked a question of Rick Thompson, president of New York City's Greentech Media Research.

I won't tell you the question. (That's because I can't. Didn't hear it. But really, what caught my ear was Thompson's response.)

It's a good question, he said. I think everybody's trying to figure out the answer.

That answer right there, folks, is The Answer, summarizing what Gig Tank is all about. Many smart people, asking questions, trying to figure out the answers. This is how shifts happen, cultures are remade and societies transformed.

For so long, the gig -- to me -- seemed like an item. A thing. An it. Something you use each day, like mouthwash.

Then, back in the spring, I talked with Sheldon Grizzle. (Everybody should.) The managing partner of Spartan Ventures, he explained that the gig is not just an Internet speed, but rather a way of seeing the world.

A mentality.

This mentality tries to merge ideas with devices. Imagine it like a math problem. A super-fast Internet + your business x your device = what?

Trouble is, our devices haven't caught up. They're the weak link.

"It's the Internet waiting for the people, not the people waiting for the Internet," Millbank said.

Millbank and I go way back; over the years, we've spent hours in hearty conversation, most of it involving Millbank taking really complex tech-concepts and mama-birding them into ideas I can understand. Tuesday, he and cohort Chris Twombley -- systems administrator at GPS -- did that very thing. (A bumper sticker in their office reads: See Gig City.)

"Look at it like the speed limit," Twombley said. "Most of the country is cruising along at 20 miles per hour. But here in Chattanooga, with our connection, we're going 1,000 miles per hour."

That's just the beginning. Months ago, EPB installed new lines at GPS with tons more fiber-room, kind of like buying pants five sizes too big just before Thanksgiving.

"Six ports," said Twombley. "Each port can handle four gigabits."

Can you imagine a 24-gig speed Internet? Of course not, and that's the tension in all this.

How does the gig become applicable to our everyday lives? How do our devices catch up to the speed available?

"If somebody told you that your car can now drive 100 times faster than it did yesterday, what does that do for you?" Millbank asked. "How does that change things?

"That's the reason everybody comes to Chattanooga," he said. "To test their products [on the gig], to see the future of how the rest of the United States will be."

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

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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aae1049 said...

How many Gig internet customers does EPB have?

July 30, 2014 at 7:21 a.m.
bret said...

A heckuva lot more than Comcast.

July 30, 2014 at 4:45 p.m.
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