EPB gigabit broadband pioneer DePriest to retire

Harold DePriest, the CEO of Chattanooga, Tennessee-based EPB -- which was one of the early pioneers in delivering 1 Gbps FTTH services, is retiring in September following 20 years at the company's top post.

A 45-year veteran of the electric utility, DePriest began his career at EPB in 1971 when he was a junior engineer following his graduation from Tennessee Technological University with a degree in electrical engineering.

After earning an MBA, DePriest rose through the ranks at EPB by managing the administrative and operations divisions before becoming the company’s sixth president. Interestingly, the 67-year-old engineer is only the sixth leader of EPB since its creation by the city of Chattanooga in 1938 as one of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA's) biggest power suppliers.

While the EPB board has not named a successor to DePriest, a report in the Times Free Press noted that David Wade, a 33-year engineer at EPB, was named president and chief operating officer in February and is expected to move into the CEO post this fall.

While Google Fiber (NASDAQ: GOOG) may get all of the credit with lighting a new broadband revolution, it was DePriest’s leadership that drove EPB’s creation of its telecom services division, which began delivering 1 Gbps FTTH service before the internet giant launched its service.

Since EPB launched its FTTH service, it has racked up 84,000 telecom subscribers. However, the company has continued to innovate with new pricing and service options.

Following Google Fiber’s model, EPB lowered the price of its 1 Gbps service from $300 to $70 a month, while upgrading all residential and business customers' service speeds to a minimum of 100 Mbps.

But EPB did not stop there. In 2015, the service provider began offering a 10G service to its FTTH subscribers for $299.

Additionally, EPB introduced a 5 Gbps and 10 Gbps internet option for small businesses as well as a 3 Gbps, 5 Gbps and 10 Gbps "Professional" product for larger enterprises.

DePriest was also a key advocate of municipal broadband rights.

EPB won a victory last February when the FCC voted along party lines to preempt state laws in North Carolina and Tennessee that were designed to restrict municipal providers in these communities from providing broadband service outside of their current serving areas. Passing that order enabled communities to choose whether or not to build their own networks based on their own missions, and gives them the ability to expand services to nearby communities.

One of the issues that EPB faced was state laws that restricted them from expanding broadband service into nearby communities. Tennessee law allows municipal electric systems like EPB to provide telecommunications services anywhere in the state, but limits provision of internet and cable services to the electrical system footprint. 

DePriest told FierceTelecom in a previous interview that EPB's motivation to bring service to a neighboring rural town was driven by the fact that neither AT&T (NYSE: T) nor Charter Communications (NASDAQ: CHTR) would make upgrades to offer potential customers broadband service.

"They have telephone lines that are too far away for DSL and the cable company, which in this case is Charter serving the surrounding county, has refused to go in and serve those areas," DePriest said. 

For more:
- Times Free Press has this article

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Chattanooga's EPB reduces 1 Gbps service to $70 a month
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Chattanooga's EPB increases speeds, lowers prices on its FTTH products