Austin: Gigabit Ground Zero


BTR_Feature_Art_Broadband_3-17-14 The 11th largest city in the United States, Austin, TX, has been making broadband news lately, most recently by Time Warner Cable (NYSE:TWC), which in late February announced speed increases that will bring its highest tiered Internet package to 300 Mbps downstream and 20 Mbps upstream.

Earlier in the month, central Texas-based Grande Communications announced that in March it will launch 1 Gbps service in West Austin. Using fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) technology, the company will market its offering at $65 per month with no annual contracts, according to news reports.

AT&T (NYSE:T) threw its hat into the high-speed Austin ring in December by initially raising speeds in parts of the city to 300 Mbps. More neighborhoods will follow in 2014, and U-Verse with GigaPower will get even faster. The company plans to offer a 1 Gbps service later this year. Customers who subscribed to 300 Mbps will be upgraded at no additional charge.

Why so much action in Austin? Austinites consume data at rates 15-20% higher than the average U-verse user, said Dahna Hull, AT&T VP and general manager for that region. But getting down to the nitty-gritty, Austin is one of the three cities chosen by Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Fiber (Provo, UT, and Kansas City are the other two) for its initial offering of a Gigabit service.

"Google started this war. Now as other competitors like AT&T ... are joining in, things are going to start to change. Not only will speeds increase, but competition will mean speeds will continue to increase, and prices should stay lower as well. That's very good news," said independent analyst Jeff Kagan, referring not only to Austin, but also to other areas of the country. Google has announced an additional 34 cities it is considering for expansion and will spend the coming year working with those cities' leaders to discern the feasibility.

As for AT&T, at the Morgan Stanley Technology Media & Telecom conference, Randall Stephenson, AT&T chairman and CEO, noted that both the cost dynamics of the fiber deployment in Austin and the market adoption have been encouraging. In other cities where his company can get terms and conditions similar to in Austin, it will redirect investment away from Project Velocity IP (VIP), a fiber-to-the-building initiative, and put it toward FTTH deployment. AT&T already has plans to launch the Giga Power service in Dallas this summer.

"In light of a new competitor, a new structure in the industry, we are going to be a little more aggressive and assertive in deploying that technology around the country," Stephenson said.

TWC announced earlier this year that it was going to revamp the customer experience with Web speed upgrades, better reliability and enhanced video. The program, dubbed TV Maxx, will launch in New York City, but spokeswoman Judy Barbao said the company is committed to improvements throughout its service area. Austin, she said, is a "rapidly growing market with tech-savvy consumers and businesses."  Hence, the faster speeds.

Barbao did not comment on the mounting competition in that market except to say that Time Warner Cable serves the entire city and much of the surrounding area and that TWC is "confident" its new Internet plans will meet the needs of even its "most intensive residential Internet customers."

The Google Fiber cities - Austin, Provo, and Kansas City - are not the only places in the United States where residential Gigabit is becoming a reality. Here's a quick look at what is happening in some other areas of the country:

C Spire Wireless has chosen nine cities in Mississippi and is following the Google model, asking people to "vote" to bring the Gigabit service to their neighborhood by preregistering. They have to make a $10 deposit that will be refunded if their community doesn't become a "fiberhood." The Gigabit service will cost $70 per month solo, $90 per month if packaged with home phone, $130 per month if combined with TV, and $150 per month for all three services. C Spire expects to start turning up the service this summer.

CenturyLink (NYSE:CTL) announced last May that it would bring a Gigabit offering to homes and businesses in Omaha by this past October using fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) technology. The company has now begun work in a second city, Las Vegas. The first residential customers were expected to come online last fall, with more communities rolling out in 2014. The telco has also launched symmetrical 1 Gbps service to businesses in the Salt Lake City area.

Chattanooga's electric utility, EPB, rolled out a fiber-optic network that has enabled Gigabit access to every home and business in the community. It also operates as a self-healing smart grid network. Bristol Tennessee Essential Services is another electric utility that has laid fiber and is offering a 1 Gbps service to its communities.

In Florida, Bright House Networks is partnering with Metro Development Group to build all-fiber Gigabit communities. In addition to a 1 Gbps service within their homes, and automation and security services, residents of these developments will have access to 1 Gbps WiFi in clubhouses and on nature trails, etc.

RST Fiber has completed a 3,100-mile fiber network across North Carolina and plans to offer up to 100 Gbps symmetrical service to businesses and homes in many cities and rural communities across the state.

Monta Monaco Hernon is a free-lance writer. She can be reached at

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