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Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 1/28/16. The AT&T building's completed mural off of M.L.King Boulevard in downtown Chattanooga.
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FILE - This Oct. 17, 2012, file photo shows an AT&T logo on an AT&T Wireless retail store front in Philadelphia. AT&T announced Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016, that the company is joining Verizon in raising the prices of some of its data plans in what the wireless company terms a simplification. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
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Spectators listen to a band play outside the Bradley County Courthouse during Saturday's cruise-in. Several hundred vehicles packed into downtown Cleveland, Tenn., on Saturday for the Merry Cuisemas Cruise, the final Main Street Cruise-in of the year.

AT&T is offering faster internet service to homes and small businesses in Bradley County, Tenn., where it's now providing speeds up to 1 gigabit per second, the company said Thursday.

With the 100 percent fiber-optic network in parts of Bradley, customers will have access to many AT&T high-speed internet options, including its AT&T GigaPowerSM service, according to the company.

AT&T State President Joelle Phillips said the investments AT&T is making in Tennessee are delivering modern communications services which people demand.

"We are excited to extend our 100 percent fiber-optic network even further throughout the state to bring speeds up to 1 gigabit to residential and small business areas in Bradley County," Phillips said in a statement.

AT&T spokesman Joseph Burgan said single play 1 gigabit service starts at $90 a month.

"We've begun making internet speeds up to 1 gigabit per second available to locations in parts of Bradley and Hamilton counties," he added. "As the new high-speed internet service is or becomes available, we're contacting residents and small businesses at eligible locations directly to make sure they are aware they can sign up for faster speeds up to 1 gigabit per second today."

The move by AT&T came as a federal appeals court earlier this month upheld Tennessee restrictions on where municipal power utilities may offer internet, cable TV and phone service, limiting attempts by Chattanooga-based EPB to expand its high-speed broadband into under-served areas of Tennessee.

The court ruling meant EPB will not be able to extend its fiber optic telecom services outside of its 600-square-mile service territory in the Chattanooga area unless state lawmakers modify the territorial limits put on EPB and other municipal power utilities in 1999.

That decision was seen as a win for private-sector providers of broadband internet, who have complained about having to compete with government-owned utilities coming into their service territories.

Bradley County officials lauded Thursday's announcement by AT&T.

"It's encouraging to see private investment filling the demand for high-speed broadband in rural Tennessee," said State Sen. Mike Bell, a Republican who represents Bradley. "My colleagues and I are striving to create policies that foster free markets and I think this is a great example of those polices paying off."

Bradley County Mayor Gary Davis said high-speed internet can open new doors for citizens and "positively impact many aspects of life, such as education and job attraction."

"This is a great step toward providing our rural areas with better broadband services," he said. "We look forward to the time that private sector investment brings this type of high-speed connectivity to all of Bradley County."

EPB President David Wade said that after years of inaction by legacy providers, "we're glad that the possibility of competition is finally causing some of them to offer service to some areas they have refused to serve until now."

"While we're happy for those who are finally getting service, we will continue to work with elected officials and grassroots citizens in the many areas who still need service and want to change state law to allow local community leaders more options for becoming fiber optic communities and fostering competition among providers," he said.

AT&T said it has choices to fit each customer's needs, including wireless networking capability for all internet customers. When people sign up for AT&T high-speed internet, they have access to more than 40,000 AT&T wi-fi hot spots at no extra charge.

Also, customers may be able to choose AT&T's DirecTV or U-verse TV services, the company said.

AT&T has invested more than $1.15 billion in its Tennessee wireless and wired networks from 2013 to 2015. In January, AT&T announced that it had added 1 million additional business customer locations – including more than 28,500 in Tennessee – to its fiber network since 2012 when the company began an aggressive fiber expansion program.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.

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