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From Milwaukee to Chattanooga, a sea of digital divide

To see how far Wisconsin has to go in the technology race, consider Chattanooga, Tenn., a city once referred to as the dirtiest in America because of its factories.

Today, Chattanooga claims to have the fastest broadband service in the nation: a superfast, city-run network available to every resident and business in a 600-square-mile region.

The city of 168,000 residents offers broadband speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second - 200 times faster than the average national download speed today. A full gigabit connection costs $350 per month. Service at 30 megabits per second - enough to stream six high-definition movies from Netflix at once, for instance - is available for about $58 per month. Other speeds are available at various prices on the municipal network.

Only Hong Kong and a few other cities in the world offer full gigabit service on a large scale - Google is building a much smaller network in Kansas City - and the superfast broadband is being touted as an economic development tool, much like electricity spurred the second industrial revolution in the 19th century.

"It's like being the first city to have fire," said Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield. "We don't know all of the things we can do with it yet, but we have something that no one else has, at least to this degree."
Whether local governments should be involved in providing broadband and television service remains contentious. But there's a lot at stake as the economy becomes more dependent on telecommunications, according to the Wisconsin Technology Council.

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