By Chuck Cantrell
Harold DePriest is a UT Chattanooga graduate who believes that if you give people the opportunity, they will succeed. And that the same holds true for a city.
That’s why, as president of Chattanooga utility EPB, DePriest has made the power company the leading force in turning his city into The Gig City.
Chattanooga became the first city anywhere in the Western Hemisphere to offer 10-gigabit-per-second Internet service – hence, “The Gig City” – to all residents and businesses. The speed far exceeds the national average, and the gig opened the door to opportunity.
“Chattanooga’s community-wide fiber optic network is a platform for innovation,” says DePriest. “It allows us to attract and cultivate entrepreneurial ventures, research efforts, and individuals with the drive to pioneer new ways of making the best use of ultrafast broadband connectivity. Ultimately, successful innovation means more jobs as well as new and better ways of doing things that will positively impact everyone in our area.”
When DePriest joined EPB in 1971, it was as a “junior engineer.” He rose through the operations and administrative ranks, becoming president and CEO in 1996. A bachelor’s degree in engineering from Tennessee Technological University gave him the technical background he needed, and a master’s degree in business administration from UT Chattanooga helped him lead his company to new levels.
“My engineering degree prepared me for the technical aspects of my career with EPB, but when I began to assume greater and greater responsibility as a leader, I wanted a formal educational foundation in business and management to augment what I was learning on the job,” DePriest says. “UTC’s MBA program was just what I needed. It gave me the tools necessary to effectively grapple with business challenges and opportunities.”
One of the opportunities DePriest helped create is access to EPB’s 10-gigabit Internet connectivity for the UTC campus. By fall 2016, the 10-gigabit service will be available through 18,000 wired ethernet ports on campus and more than 1,500 Wi-Fi access points serving all UTC buildings and facilities, meeting the growing demand for Internet access by students, faculty and staff.
Prior to achieving the recent 10-gigabit milestone, EPB already was serving UTC’s growing need for bandwidth with 2-gigabit campus-wide connectivity. Yet, by the start of the spring 2016 semester, campus bandwidth demand exceeded 2 gigabits.
UTC is going to be Chattanooga’s first 10-gigabit commercial customer and is among a small group of U.S. colleges and universities with such a high level of service. And for the city, the 10-gigabit network means advanced technology infrastructure is combined with a thriving cosmopolitan atmosphere just minutes from mountains, rivers and other outdoor recreational opportunities.
In recent years, Chattanooga’s signature lifestyle and focus on environmental stewardship has attracted $6 billion in foreign direct investment. Now, the city is turning its attention to technology and pioneering a model for other cities to follow.
“EPB’s mission is to promote economic development and enhance quality of life across the Chattanooga area. UTC is one of our most important partners in that mission,” DePriest says.
“A good, strong community needs a good, strong university. Like UT Chattanooga, EPB strives to create a local environment that attracts and retains the bright young people who will make our community even better.”