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AT&T to Bring GigaPower to Florida, Pushes Austin Footprint to Full Gig

Thursday, August 14, 2014

By Tim McElgunn

Aug. 13 —AT&T will bring its U-Verse with GigaPower service into Florida, announcing yesterday that it will begin offering the ultra-high-speed service to residents and small and mid-sized businesses in parts of Miami and that it is assessing the viability of rolling it out to selected areas of the Miami suburbs.

The move will expand the markets where AT&T's GigaPower will compete directly with Comcast Corp. for high-end customers, adding to Houston, Tex. and Nashville, Tenn.

The company said it is “deploying additional fiber and electronics to the existing network in Miami to meet the growing demand for ultra-fast broadband.” Miami was among the 100 cities listed by AT&T as potential GigaPower targets in an April 2014 announcement. The telco has also promised to expand GigaPower availability to an additional 2 million customers as a condition of its proposed acquisition of satellite TV provider DirecTV.

Comcast's Reaction Muted as It Waits for TWC Decision

If Comcast is successful in its proposed Time Warner Cable Inc. acquisition, the communications giants will go toe-to-toe in every AT&T GigaPower market announced to date.

TWC has accelerated its TWC Maxx 300 Mbps rollouts as competition from AT&T and Google Inc.’s Google Fiber has mounted, promising to cover the majority of its homes passed in NYC and L.A and Austin this year and in Charlotte, Dallas, Hawaii, Kansas City, Raleigh, San Antonio and San Diego during 2015.

Comcast itself has made only one small commitment to gigabit speeds to date. The company in July announced a very limited fiber-to-the-home deployment in a few select communities beginning in Sun Valley, Florida. Elsewhere, the company has leveraged Ethernet services developed for commercial customers and one-off fiber extensions to deliver residential 305 Mbps connections to compete with Verizon's high end 300 Mbps and 500 Mbps FiOS services.

In a limited number of Comcast Northeast regional markets, which include the Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Boston, Hartford, Baltimore, and Richmond, Va.metro areas, Comcast has boosted its top speed to 505 Mbps.

Austin First Market Living up to GigaPower Moniker

In addition to announcing its new GigaPower market, AT&T is finally putting the gig into its U-Verse with GigaPower deployment with the announcement that subscribers in the few neighborhoods AT&T serves in Austin, Tex. will start seeing a full gigabit in coming weeks.

The operator said that the “tens of thousands” of GigaPower-connected customers will not have to do anything to get the new speed. AT&T will push the upgrades out automatically.

The service enhancement will give AT&T an advantage over Time Warner Cable, which is in the process of rolling out its own 300 Mbps service in Austin, although TWC's top speed should be available to many more subscribers once it completes its upgrade.

TWC's May 2014 announcement noted that “Time Warner Cable will be the only provider to offer ultrafast Internet speeds to all of its residential customers in the market.” That claim is not entirely accurate, given that when it goes live, Google Fiber subscribers in Austin will by definition be all of its residential customers in the market. It is clear, however, that only a subset of AT&T's total subscribers qualify for the U-verse GigaPower service that it began rolling out in late 2013. Some of AT&T's Austin metro customers cannot yet access U-verse at any speed.

Tier 2 Cable Op Also Brings Gigabit to Austin

AT&T also faces gigabit competition from Grande Communications, which serves a number of Austin suburbs. Grande is being the most aggressive with its pricing in the Austin market, offering uncapped symmetrical 1 Gbps connections for $65 per month, compared to AT&T's lowest price of $70 per month. Grande is also highlighting AT&T's policy of offering its lowest price only to those subscribers willing to participate in its AT&T Internet Preferences targeted advertising program. Grande's website notes that its Power 1000 service is offered with “No tracking or selling of Internet usage information. “

Grande's Power 1000 prices top out at $170 a month for its “Get it All” double or triple play bundles including 1 Gbps Internet access, up to three TiVo DVRs (Every Get-It-All Bundle includes one Multi-Room TiVo DVR. Get-It-All Bundles that come with additional TiVos may include TiVo Mini and/or TiVo Stream receivers in addition to the one Multi-Room TiVo DVR), Grande's full line up of digital and HD channels, and a package of premium channels. The company apparently feels that users at that price level shouldn't pay anything extra for nationwide calling, since the double and triple-play offers cost the same.

AT&T offers its Internet-only GigaPower service for $70 per month but, as noted, requires participation in its ad and online tracking program. Users unwilling to participate pay $99 per month.

Google Sparked the Gigabit Fire in Austin

Google Inc. is also competing in parts of Austin offering a $70 per month Internet only Google Fiber service and a $120 per month data plus video bundle. It was the Internet monolith's announcement that sparked the gigabit arms race in the city and that is having a similar effect in other cities targeted by Google Fiber.

With Google and AT&T being somewhat vague about the actual reach of their respective ultra-high-speed footprints and neighborhood build schedules, it is impossible to determine which Austin neighborhoods will actually see mega-speed competition. It is reasonable, however, to expect the providers to target the same general demographics—comparatively affluent and/or always-connected.

Bloomberg BNA's Broadband Advisory Serviceswill publish a detailed overview of gigabit activity in the U.S. later this month.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tim McElgunn in Cherry Hill, NJ at tmcelgunn@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bob Emeritz at bemeritz@bna.com

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