Seeking to keep their competitive edge in the broadband market, two more big US cable operators are hiking their maximum data speeds in several prime markets around the country.
Both Suddenlink Communications and Charter Communications Inc. are boosting their top speeds significantly as they try to fend off thrusts by rival broadband providers. The two MSOs are particularly seeking to preempt incursions by such budding rivals as AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Google Fiber Inc. , which are now introducing 1Gbit/s service in several markets apiece.
In the bigger of the two speed hikes, Suddenlink is now rolling out new tiers with 300Mbit/s maximum download speeds in two Texas towns just north of Austin, with a third to follow later this summer. Residential broadband customers in the three suburban communities -- Leander, Pflugerville, and Georgetown -- will also receive a hike to 15Mbit/s upload speeds for $65 a month as part of the new "Internet 300" offering.
The new downstream rates, which leverage DOCSIS 3.0 technology, represent a near tripling of the maximum speeds that Suddenlink had been offering. In 2010, the seventh-largest US MSO introduced top speeds of 107 Mbit/s in those same three markets, briefly making Suddenlink the fastest large broadband provider on the North American continent.
In doing so, Suddenlink clearly has its eye on AT&T and Google Fiber, both of which are gearing up to bring 1Gbit/s service to the Austin area. In fact, the MSO is openly boasting that it's bringing its higher speeds to all of its residential customers in those towns, not just a few select neighborhoods like its two prime rivals. But it makes no mention of Grande Communications , a cable overbuilder that is already offering 1-Gig speeds in parts of the Texas capital, which is becoming the North American hub for gigabit rollouts. (See TWC Joins Austin Speed Sweepstakes.)
"Based on public records and additional research, it appears AT&T U-verse has cherry-picked where it will offer its service, while Google Fiber is nowhere to be found," said Michael Neumann, senior director of operations for Suddenlink, in a statement. "In contrast, we're making our 300 Mbit/s service available to 100% of the residential areas we serve in these communities."
Suddenlink, which serves a number of markets in southern and western Texas, did not say where else it plans to offer the Internet 300 product. But, in a related move, the company announced that it has now activated nearly half of the 200 WiFi access points it intends to offer in the three suburban communities.
Charter's broadband speed hikes are not nearly as dramatic as Suddenlink's. But, similar to Suddenlink, Charter is tripling its broadband speeds in at least one key market. The fourth-largest US MSO confirmed several press reports that it's raising its entry-level downstream speeds to 100 Mbit/s in its hometown St. Louis market as part of its all-digital upgrade there. Previously, the MSO offered 30 Mbit/s service.
Under its new "Charter Spectrum" program, Charter is now upgrading all of its markets to all-digital service by the end of the year. The upgrades will enable Charter to boost broadband speeds while also increasing the number of HD channels in each market and beefing up its voice and TV Everywhere offerings.
The moves by the two MSOs come as AT&T continues to extend the reach of its new "U-verse with GigaPower" platform, which can offer downstream speeds as high as 1 Gbit/s. In its latest expansion, AT&T has gained approval for rollouts from three more North Carolina cities in the past week: Raleigh, Cary, and Chapel Hill. With the aid of the North Carolina Next Generation Network (NCNGN), the telco has now signed up five cities in the state for its GigaPower initiative, mostly in the Research Triangle area. (See AT&T GigaPower Wins Two NC Cities .)
The moves also come as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) keeps up pressure on broadband providers to boost their data speeds. In its latest move late last week, the Commission issued its fourth "Measuring Broadband America" report. Among other things, the report found that while "fiber and cable technologies continue to evolve to higher speed offerings, … DSL is beginning to lag behind."
We'll have greater coverage of the FCC report in a separate post later this week. Stay tuned.
— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading