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Charter Takes On U-verse

Jeff Baumgartner
1/29/2009

Charter Communications Inc. may be trying to wiggle out of a debt-loaded financial mess these days, but that hasn't stopped the MSO from making good on its promise to introduce the speedy Docsis 3.0 platform. (See Analyst Chops Charter and Charter Seeking 'Financial Alternatives' .)

With the increasingly popular U-verse service from telco incumbent AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) in its sights, Charter is revving up wideband services in its home town of St. Louis. Its "Ultra60" service uses channel bonding techniques to create a logical pipe that can burst up to 60 Mbit/s (paired with an unbonded upstream of 5 Mbit/s), making it one of the fastest services offered by a North American cable operator today. (See Charter Debuts Docsis 3.0.)

In comparison, Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK)'s wideband service offers 50 Mbit/s downstream. Canada's Vidéotron Telecom Ltd. , meanwhile, offers two wideband tiers with maximum downstream speeds of 30 Mbit/s and 50 Mbit/s. (See Videotron Hits the Gas , Videotron Widens Wideband Footprint, and Comcast Wraps Up '08 Wideband Rollout .)

But, like Comcast's wideband offering, Charter's new broadband service isn't cheap. Ultra60 sells for $129 per month when bundled with other Charter services, and $139.99 when unbundled, according to a company spokeswoman.

In St. Louis, Charter competes with AT&T U-verse, which offers customers up to 18 Mbit/s downstream and 1.5 Mbit/s upstream.

Charter said it expects to launch its Docsis 3.0-based service in additional markets but has not set a specific timeline or identified any additional locations.

The deployment in St. Louis comes a little later than Charter had initially hoped: It had planned to launch the service before the end of 2008 and had even outlined the per-subscriber cost. (See Charter Sets Course for Docsis 3.0, All-Digital and Charter Talks Docsis Costs.)

Meanwhile, in the non-wideband world, Charter is in the process of beefing up the downstream of its present, single-channel Docsis tier, Internet Max, from 16 Mbit/s to 20 Mbit/s for no additional cost. The MSO, which ended the third quarter of 2008 with 2.85 million high-speed Internet customers, expects to offer the upgraded service across the board "soon." For customers who already subscribe to that level of service, the upgrade will be automatic.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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