Feb. 29, 2012 at 5:00 PM ET
What would you do if had if you had an Internet service that could download a 2-hour movie in about 5 seconds?
You could, of course, watch a bunch of movies. City officials and investors in Chattanooga, Tenn., hope you have some other creative business ideas that take advantage of its 1-gigabit-per second Internet.
That is, the city has an Internet that is 20 to 200 times faster than what's available to customers anywhere else in the country. They want innovators to figure out what to do with all that speed.
If you think you've got some ideas, hurry up and submit them to the Gig Tank competition. There's $300,000 in seed investment and prize money at stake. The deadline for entries is March 1.
There are two tracks in the competition – one for students and another for entrepreneurs. Organizers expect more than 100 entries, Jack Studer, a partner with VC firm Lamp Post Group, told me Wednesday.
On the student side, ideas range from collaborative teaching and learning projects that involve high-definition video streaming to applications that take advantage of all the data stored in the cloud.
Entrepreneurs with business plans in hand are heavily focused on healthcare applications such as telemedicine and ways to share massive files in real time.
"An MRI is a couple of terabytes of data so you can't really share that in real time unless you've got some pretty massive bandwidth from point to point," Studer noted.
Other applications attempt to make sense of all the data collected by the fiber optic smart grid being gathered by the local electric utility.
Chattanooga, a city with about 150,000, homes and businesses, hosts the country's first Internet service capable of speeds up to 1-gigabit-per second.
The city's utility, EPB, installed the Internet service in 2010 on the back of a fiber optic network built with a matching $111.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy for smart grid applications.
"We spent the money to add the electronics that are required to allow you to deliver Internet, phone, and TV services," Danna Baily, a spokeswoman for the utility, told me.
Backers of the Gig Tank consider the smart grid, which brings benefits such as increased power grid reliability and improved monitoring of power usage, as the first "killer app" for the network.
They hope the competition will generation new business ideas that leverage the speedy pipe, generating new jobs for the city and money for investors.
For investors to see riches, though, the ideas have to be good enough to get more people to pony up for the $350 a month superfast Internet service.
Currently, just nine residential customers and 18 businesses in Chattanooga are doing so, noted Bailey, who compares the service to early days of electricity when its primary use was lighting.
"But having it available ubiquitously meant that all this new innovation could be developed and new wealth was created," she said.
Looking to the future, Chattanooga is betting, blazing fast Internet will be ubiquitous, too.
"We want to be ahead of the curve," Studer said. "It is our educated guess that other cities will follow, especially if we can generate these game-changing ideas."