AT&T Ups Race to Provide Faster Home Internet in Atlanta

AT&T said Tuesday it will bring lightning-fast connection to Atlanta, giving the city its first broad commitment for speeds up to 100 times faster than average the American home.

by Matt Kempner, McClatchy News Service / October 15, 2014
AT&T building in Atlanta, Ga. Flickr/leighadactyl

Some metro Atlantans may soon get home Internet connections so speedy they’ll be able to download a TV show faster than it took to read this sentence.

AT&T said Tuesday it will bring lightning-fast Internet hookups to the cities of Atlanta, Sandy Springs, Decatur and Newnan, giving the metro area its first broad commitment for speeds up to 100 times faster than average for American homes.

But huge swaths of metro Atlanta have yet to make the cut. And AT&T isn’t detailing when it will offer the local service to the announced cities or how much it will charge customers.

Gigabit-per-second speeds are so fast that most wireless routers can’t move data at such a velocity. In Chattanooga, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter found plenty of residents wowed by $69.99-a-month residential gig service provided by a city-owned utility. But relatively few people in the Tennessee city make full use of the system’s fastest speeds, unsure what they would need it for.

Still, Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul predicts the gigabit-per-second connections will attract companies and young, tech-savvy residents to metro Atlanta.

“We understand that’s way more capacity than most people can use today,” Paul said. “But in the next three to five years, that’s going to change. That puts us ahead of the curve.”

Outposts of gigabit-per-second links are available already or will soon be in spots locally. For example, it’s available on Georgia Tech’s campus, and some businesses have had the service for years. But AT&T’s move would potentially provide faster connections to the homes and small businesses of hundreds of thousands of people.

At gigabit-per-second speeds, an HD movie could download in about 30 seconds compared to about 36 minutes at current average Georgia speeds. The connections also allow simultaneously uploading and downloading of files so huge that, practically speaking, they are unmovable through regular hookups. To upgrade its service, AT&T will install fiber optic lines all the way to homes, likely stringing more fiber on poles or underground.

The speed upgrade “is just the latest example of our determination to connect consumers and businesses to their future,” Beth Shiroishi, the president of AT&T Georgia, said in a press release.

Company spokesman Lance Skelly said the company is still working out the timing of the service’s roll out and “can’t even speculate” what price it might charge consumers. The company charges $120 a month for similar service in Dallas-Fort Worth if customers agree to tracking of their web browsing so AT&T can target them for advertising.

Skelly said the company has not ruled out expanding to any of the eight other local cities it had announced earlier this year it was considering for the faster speed.

Pressure for gigabit-per-second speed grew dramatically this year around the nation. Google, which already had launched the fiber-to-the-home service in Kansas City and other cities, announced earlier this year consideration of more metro areas, including nine municipalities in metro Atlanta, three of which — Atlanta, Decatur and Sandy Springs — AT&T says it will now serve.

A Google spokeswoman said Tuesday that by the end of the year the company hopes to announce which cities will get its fiber. Google hasn’t announced what pricing it might have in metro Atlanta, but in Kansas City it charges $70 a month for its gig service.

Even if all the communities being considered by Google and AT&T get the faster Internet connections, much of the metro area could still be left with slower speeds, including unincorporated areas and cities such as Roswell, Lilburn, Dunwoody, Kennesaw and Chamblee.

Comcast, the Atlanta area’s dominant cable provider, has not said if and when it might offer gigabit-per-second speeds locally. The company recently increased its top residential speed offering to about half a gig for nearly $400 a month.

Next year Comcast will test technology that could allow it to eventually deliver gig or faster speeds, spokesman Alex Horwitz said in an email to the AJC. “We double the capacity of our network every 18 months and we’re always investing in our network to ensure our customers have all the speed they need to have a great online experience.”

Atlanta-based Cox Communications, one of the nation’s largest cable providers, said it is committed to providing gigabit speeds for all its customers. Its only market in Georgia is in the Macon area. The company is part of Cox Enterprises, which also operates the AJC.

Pat Esser, the cable company’s president, said in a statement, “Cox has invested more than $15 billion in its network over the last decade and has increased broadband speeds more than 1000 percent in 13 years. We’ll connect the first gigabit homes in Phoenix this month and quickly deploy in developments in other markets. Gigabit speeds have been part of our business offer for years; now we’re extending it to homes.”

Companies are being driven to provide faster speeds because of competitive concerns about rivals such as Google, soaring demands for capacity to handle data and an explosion in connected devices, said David Belson, the editor of a quarterly state of the Internet reports for Akamai Technologies.

Belson admits, “I don’t know what I would do with a gig.”

Providers are assuming not everyone will sign up for the service immediately, he said. “If it’s super expensive, it’s not useful.”

©2014 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.)

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