News Column

AT&T unveils plan to bring high-speed fiber optic broadband to Charlotte

July 30, 2014

By Eric Frazier, The Charlotte Observer

July 30--AT&T will expand its super-fast GigaPower broadband network to Charlotte, the company announced Wednesday, setting the stage for a potential battle with Google over next-generation Internet services in the city.

The news comes as Google officials engage in talks with the city of Charlotte over bringing its similarly fast Google Fiber broadband service to the area. Google has said it will decide by the end of the year whether it will launch its service here.

AT&T, like Google, says its fiber-optic network will offer upload and download broadband speeds up to 100 times faster than current broadband service.

AT&T said its GigaPower service will download 25 songs in one second, a TV show in less than three seconds, and a high definition online movie in less than 36 seconds.

Business leaders have said such speeds attract tech startups and entrepreneurs drawn by the potential for creating new digital products and services.

Pricing information and specific locations where the service will operate in Charlotte will be announced later, AT&T said in a press release. It wasn't immediately clear when the service will crank up.

Charlotte Mayor Dan Clodfelter said the city is pleased to welcome the service.

"AT&T's networks helped us become a hub for international business and banking," he said in a statement. "This new network will move us to the next level in building a vibrant, world-class and globally-connected city."

Google in February announced that Charlotte was one of nine metro areas where it would consider expanding its fledgling Google Fiber network. AT&T in April announced a major push to expand its GigaPower network to 25 new markets nationally, including Charlotte.

The service is currently offered only in Austin, Texas, starting at $70 per month for Internet only, $150 per month for the Internet, TV and phone package.

With Wednesday's announcement, AT&T has now confirmed plans to add GigaPower in Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham, Winston-Salem, Nashville, and the Texas cities of San Antonio, Dallas and Fort Worth.

Google is also considering Raleigh-Durham, Nashville and San Antonio as possible expansion cities for its Fiber service.

An AT&T spokesman said in April that Google's consideration of Charlotte didn't impact AT&T's decision to consider expanding in the city.

But analysts say the two corporations are locked in a high-tech battle for supremacy over the budding fiber-optic broadband market.

When Google announced it would bring its Fiber network to Austin sometime in 2014, AT&T immediately announced it would bring gigabit service to Austin, too -- and beat Google to the punch by launching it last December.

AT&T at one point tried to block Google from using its utility poles in Austin. An AT&T spokesman said he wasn't aware of any requests from Google or the city to let Google use AT&T's poles in Charlotte.

In May, city leaders set forth a plan for bringing a Google Fiber network to Charlotte. They propose to use 28 small huts encircling the city, and thousands of miles of cable running above and beneath the streets.

Google officials have said they are studying the city's infrastructure, trying to determine where to bury cables and where they should be mounted on existing utility poles.

Google Fiber spokesperson Kelly Mason said Wednesday that the company had no comment about AT&T's plans, but Google remains on track to make an announcement about Charlotte by year's end.

More generally, she said, Google favors increased competition among providers for gigabit broadband customers.

"That's good for the user," she said.

It wasn't immediately clear whether AT&T is asking for the same or similar accommodations from the city as Google. In a statement Wednesday, Venessa Harrison, president of AT&T North Carolina, praised local political leaders for recognizing the importance of advanced technology.

She also noted that "smart public policy decisions, such as adopting competitively neutral local ordinances," can help spur investment in the community.

Other companies have also jumped into the gigabit broadband marketplace.

Cable firm Comporium in June launched its Zipstream gigabit broadband service to businesses in Rock Hill. Monday, the firm announced that it will deliver the service to various neighborhoods in York and Lancaster counties.

Shelby-based startup RST Global said in March that its new network, which uses Wi-Fi rather than cables to bring broadband signals to homes, was already capable of offering gigabit speeds.

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(c)2014 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)

Visit The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.) at www.charlotteobserver.com

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Source: Charlotte Observer (NC)


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