John "Thunder" Thornton is a lifelong Tennessee fan, but when the Chattanooga developer needed high-speed Internet service for his mountaintop residential development in Marion County he headed south into Alabama to roll with the tide of a different set of regulations.

Unable to gain high-speed broadband at what he deemed an affordable price from AT&T or Charter Communications and limited from service extensions from EPB's ultra-fast Internet in Chattanooga, Thornton created his own Internet service provider last year. The private developer spent more than $400,000 to build his own fiber network and link it with a power cooperative in Stevenson, Ala., where fast broadband is available.

Using the fiber optic system that the North Alabama Electric Coop created to help set up a Google data site at the shuttered Widows Creek coal plant, Thornton announced Thursday his Jasper Highlands near Kimball, Tenn., is now able to offer high-speed, gigabit-per-second Internet service for all home sites in his 3,000-acre complex.

"Welcome to 'Gig Mountain,'" Thornton told enthusiastic supporters Thursday at the new offices for his Jasper Mountain development. "With the band of clouds around Jasper Mountain today, we literally are now a digital island in the sky."

Thornton said he invested more than $400,000 of his own money to build the new Internet provider known as Hi-Tech Data LLC and connect it to the North Alabama Electric Cooperative five miles away with assistance from Tennessee-based Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative. Fiber optic lines for the last 2,000 feet up the mountain for the new Gig service were laid by Hi-Tech Data to allow homeowners in the development to enjoy some of the fastest Internet speeds in the country.

"Recognizing that regional economic development support is a win-win for everyone, we were more than eager to help Jasper Highlands with their connectivity," said Bruce Purdy, the chief executive of North Alabama Electric Coop. "We would welcome the opportunity to work with more partners in bordering states. Fiber is the future."

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