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AT&T’s Vaporware Gigabit Internet in Austin: Thin on Details, Price, and ‘Up to 300Mbps’ to Start

Phillip Dampier October 1, 2013 AT&T, Broadband Speed, Competition, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't 9 Comments
*-Terms, conditions, and a whole lot more applies.

*-Terms, conditions, and a whole lot more applies.

Austin residents are getting spoiled with promises of gigabit broadband — the first major city in the country offered a competitive choice of 1,000Mbps Internet providers — Google and AT&T.

But one of those claiming to offer a “100-percent fiber Internet broadband network that will deliver up to 1Gbps per second,” is already fudging on that commitment before activating its first fiber customer.

AT&T’s sudden interest in selling 1,000Mbps service came as a surprise to Austin residents that have been told for years their broadband service was fast enough as is. Grande Communications had been the choice for customers seeking the fastest speeds — they sell up to 110/5Mbps for $110 a month. Time Warner Cable still tops out at 50Mbps and AT&T’s U-verse, still not fully deployed in Texas, sold up to 24Mbps ‘screaming fast’ Max Turbo service as its top offering until recently, when AT&T began limited roll-out of up to 45Mbps service.

Mere hours after Google announced Austin as its next choice for Google Fiber, “me-too” AT&T was announcing it would build its own gigabit fiber to the home network in the same city. That was a complete 180 for AT&T, which has consistently argued that running fiber to the home was an unnecessary expense. While Verizon faced the wrath of Wall Street for its decision to launch FiOS — an all-fiber-network — analysts were complaining Verizon was spending too much while AT&T was spending considerably less on its fiber to the neighborhood U-verse system that keeps existing copper wire into the home.

Right from the beginning, AT&T has always accompanied certain terms and conditions for any fiber deployment — winning equal concessions that Google received from local officials with respect to pole attachment fees, zoning, permits, and other expenses. If those were not forthcoming, AT&T could walk away from its fiber commitment at any time.

On Monday, AT&T announced it had started deploying fiber for AT&T U-verse with GigaPower, with a plan to launch in December in neighborhoods with the highest number of votes to get the service. AT&T is taking names and numbers of interested customers seeking to show their interest in fiber service. No deposit or commitment is required to vote, but you will be placed on AT&T’s marketing mailing lists.

“Austin embodies innovation and social consciousness, and is the heart of a vibrant, ever-evolving tech culture and entrepreneurial spirit,” said Dave Nichols, president of AT&T Texas. “With our all-fiber U-verse services, we are building the foundation for a new wave of innovation for Austin’s consumers, businesses, and civic and educational institutions. It’s about engaging the full community and empowering the city and its people with all that technology can offer us. This investment will help attract new business and new jobs to Austin.”

Phillip Dampier

Phillip Dampier

As long as those consumers, businesses, and jobs are within the first deployment zone for AT&T’s fiber network.

For the rest of this year and well into the next, that will be a very exclusive neighborhood.

AT&T’s press release claims it will “initially reach tens of thousands of customer locations throughout Austin and surrounding areas this year, with additional local expansion planned in 2014.”

The five-county Austin–Round Rock metropolitan area has a population of 1,834,303 residents. Assuming AT&T managed to offer fiber service to 100,000 residents — and that is a generous figure, that represents only 5.5% of Greater Austin. The old U-verse is still a work in progress in several Texas cities, so it could take years for AT&T to deploy fiber in Austin. Expect AT&T to start with the low-hanging fruit — multi-dwelling units such as apartments, condos, and other similar buildings, some that already have existing fiber connections in place.

AT&T may never get around to offering fiber to more rural locations in Austin’s suburbs: “There are many factors involved in stringing an advanced fiber network, so having your neighbors vote to be notified about U-verse with GigaPower is no guarantee we’ll get to your neighborhood first, but it does give us some idea of where we want to focus our efforts; and besides, things are always more fun when we work together.”

AT&T is already backing away from its commitment to offer gigabit service, at least initially.

“The December launch will initially feature symmetrical speeds of up to 300Mbps, […] with an upgrade to speeds up to 1 Gigabit per second when available in mid-2014, and at no extra cost,” AT&T writes in its press release.

Speaking of cost, nobody at AT&T is willing to give us one for the 1,000 300Mbps launch tier.

If AT&T is smart, it better set it lower than what Google is likely to charge, considering AT&T will initially only deliver less than 1/3rd of the promised gigabit speed.

While thinking about that, AT&T might also want to dump usage caps. The fastest U-verse tiers come with a 250GB usage allowance, which can really crimp a screaming fast fiber experience once your allowance runs out.

Currently there are 9 comments on this Article:

  1. Scott says:

    To be fair to AT&T I believe Google’s FTTH service’s actual throughput was around 300-400Mbit?

    Still, it’ll be hilarious if AT&T attempts to launch and sell their Fiber service in Austin with any usage caps, and I’ll be they’ll still be more expensive than Google.. AT&T just can’t seem to ever be price competitive.

    • It is intentionally 300Mbps because the company says it will upgrade to 1Gbps sometime in 2014, so in reality it means up to 300Mbps. My personal suspicion is that they are going to wire up multi-dwelling units and a few token neighborhoods that might already fed by fiber, and declare victory. Most likely, the equipment to manage gigabit speed itself is what needs to be installed in some of these buildings.

      If you run the numbers, it’s clear less than 5% of Greater Austin is going to see this upgrade in the coming year, so we have another case of AT&T Upgrade-by-Press-Release for the vast majority of residents.

      There are people still waiting for AT&T to bother themselves enough to provide basic U-verse service.

      AT&T has always argued they want an economic model based on evidence that people will pay AT&T’s idea of a fair price for broadband over fiber. That means the Google-style neighborhood competition plan. It’s clear AT&T’s Return on Investment expectations are much greater than Google at the moment.

      • elfonblog says:

        My guess is that AT&T would just extend fiber from the Uverse boxes. This means the only new equipment is fiber “modems” in the premises.

  2. Ian L says:

    I suppose that my apartment complex will be toward the top of the list for one of these deployments. Upscale, a VRAD just outside, and a lot of potential customers that only have TWC right now.

    The question is who will get here first, and how much AT&T will cost when it does get here. If they get here first and price competitively enough, I won’t be able to drum up the support needed to get the landlord to let GFiber install here. At which point I have to just hope that AT&T stays competitive even in a relatively captive market.

    • Google has a steep install fee for apartment owners. AT&T might end up with one as well, although my guess is they will try and pound out an agreement that includes exclusive use of the building’s wiring, complicating any Google entry. AT&T’s contracts discourage competition because they include exclusive use of all internal communications wiring, forcing the secondary provider to run new wire in the building for non-AT&T customers.

      • txpatriot says:

        FCC rules prohibit AT&T from signing any agreement with a multiunit dwelling owner / manager that calls for exclusive phone or cable service.

        Exclusive marketing arrangements are OK. Exclusive Internet access is not clear but I think the FCC would look askance at such a deal; similarly a deal for exclusive use of building or campus wiring.

        Plus the Texas PUC has a rule that prohibits multiunit dwelling owners from discriminating on such things as prices and access. I think NY has a similar rule or law.

  3. elfonblog says:

    “will initially feature symmetrical speeds of up to 300Mbps”

    There’s that phrase I love so much; “up to”. So.. like, 240Mbps most of the time? And you won’t come out to fix it unless it drops below 150Mbps? Right. AT&T, you are sfus.

    In brighter news today, just this very morning, Google’s contractors were inspecting the poles in preparation of deploying the main fibers. They will be doing South Austin first of all, along Congress and Lamar streets. This is better than I dreamed of, since there are many more techies and richies in the N, NW and Central areas. They are on-schedule to start providing residential service early 2014!


  4. James R Curry says:

    About a block from UT and uVerse tops out at 18mbps… no 24mbps service available in our building.

  5. Ian L says:

    I can get 6 Mbps on U-Verse. So I don’t get U-Verse.

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