published Sunday, June 27th, 2010

EPB, AT&T; challenge Comcast as broadband options grow

  • photo
    Staff File Photo A Comcast technician checks equipment at a company facility in Chattanooga.

PDF: Broadband by country

Comcast Corp.

Brand: Xfinity

Services: Cable TV, high-speed Internet, telephone

Strengths: Most widely available with most high-definition and movie options

Company: EPB

Brand: FiTV, FiPhone, FiSpeed Internet

Services: VIdeo, phone, high-speed Internet

Strengths: All fiber optic network for fastest dual speed Internet

Company: AT&T

Brand: U-Verse TV

Services: Internet protocol television, high-speed Internet and telephone

Strengths: Internet links allow interactive video services

America may have invented the Internet, but the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development estimates the United States now trails at least 14 other countries in the share of homes or businesses with high-speed broadband service.

Chattanooga's telephone, cable TV and electrical providers are each trying to boost local broadband coverage this year with new and enhanced services, making the Scenic City one of the most competitive for consumers looking to get faster computer links on the Information Superhighway.

Comcast Corp., the dominant cable TV provider, upgraded the Chattanooga market to an all-digital system last year and rebranded its product to the Xfinity name in February.

"Comcast is innovating products across many platforms, giving customers even more choice and control over the entertainment, communications and information they want," Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said in his announcement of Xfinity.

Along with the new brand, Comcast is adding five more high-definition channels in Chattanooga to bring the total number of HD channels to 96, Comcast's Chattanooga public affairs manager Laurie Shipley said.

But Comcast is facing new competition from its once monopoly control of the cable TV market.

EPB launched its all- fiber-optic network last September and has already signed up more than 10,000 customers who want their new video, phone or Internet connections.

EPB, which has provided electricity service to Chattanooga since 1939, expanded into telecommunications as an outgrowth of fiber-optic lines the utility laid to read meters and control power flows for its electric system.

EPB is spending $219 million on its fiber-optic system in Chattanooga to install smart meters at every home -- and to provide fiber-optic telecom services for residential customers wanting video, phone or Internet via EPB.

The electric utility is now offering its telecom services to nearly every residence in Chattanooga, East Ridge and Red Bank and should cover the rest of its service territory within the next two years.

"At the beginning of our initiative, we made a commitment to make our 100 percent fiber-optic services accessible to every home in our customer service area, and we are working hard to do just that, as quickly as we can," said Katie Espeseth, vice president of EPB Fiber Optics.

The newest entry into the telecom turf wars is telephone giant AT&T, which is launching its U-verse TV service this summer. The AT&T video service uses Internet protocol to deliver television channels and interactive video via AT&T's phone lines. AT&T is already the leading phone provider and DSL Internet provider in the market.

Greg Morton, president of AT&T Tennessee, said the Internet-protocol television gives the consumer more options about when programs are available and interactive choices. Mr. Morgan said the technology "will allow new services and features our competitors won't be able to deliver."

EPB President Harold DePriest said the competition should be good for the consumer. "May the best product win," he said.

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