POLL: Would you buy 2-gig Internet from Comcast?
The Gig City's Internet speed is doubling.
Comcast announced Thursday that it will offer service at 2 gigabits per second to homes in the Chattanooga area, the fastest residential speed in the nation.
But the service won't be available to businesses, and Atlanta will be getting it first, this month. The cable giant has not disclosed how much the new product will cost.
The Chattanooga rollout begins in June and will be available to all Comcast customers and to noncustomers who live where the company's network can service them, about 200,000 people. The company says it already has infrastructure in place for the fiber-to-home service.
EPB officials were unfazed by the announcement. The city-owned utility rolled out 1 gbps service here in 2009. The city's mayor and local business-technology leaders said Comcast's move expands consumer choice and bolsters the community.
"Chattanooga already has the fastest, most pervasive and cheapest gigabit service in the Western Hemisphere," Mayor Andy Berke said. "Today's announcement will only ensure Chattanoogans have even more options to access critical infrastructure."
"Gigabit Pro" will run twice as fast as EPB's 1 gbps service or Google Fiber, Google's new Internet service coming to Nashville.
Comcast had long planned to bring the ultra-speedy service to Chattanooga, but plans were on hold for more than a year as Comcast pursued a takeover of Time Warner Cable, said Doug Guthrie, senior vice president of Comcast Cable's South Region.
Last month, Comcast dropped its bid for Time Warner Cable. That also effectively put the brakes on Charter Communications acquiring some Time Warner Cable markets that Comcast had expected to divest, including Chattanooga.
"We immediately reactivated our plan," Guthrie said Thursday.
Comcast officials said Chattanooga was an obvious location to go after. "Chattanooga is known for being a technologically advanced community," Guthrie said.
About 66,000 homes and 6,000 businesses use EPB's fiber-optics service. Of those, 5,425 get 1 Gbps service.
Comcast doesn't disclose customer numbers. It's not clear just how many EPB customers could get Comcast service, but in March a Comcast spokeswoman said the company is able to deliver its many services, including Internet, to 99 percent of Hamilton County.
"The big message here is that competition works," said J.Ed. Marston, EPB's vice president of marketing. "There hadn't been any interest in serving this market with cutting-edge products until EPB took the plunge and made the investment. I think this verifies our business model."
No one thought Chattanooga would remain the only place to have gig speeds, said Joda Thongnopnua, communications director for Lamp Post Group, a venture incubator in Chattanooga.
"It's not superproductive to build a network that starts and ends with Chattanooga," he said. Still, EPB "deserves a lot of credit."
Comcast's challenge will be breaking into a community that trusts EPB, said Teresa Mastrangelo, an analyst with Virginia-based market research firm Broadbandtrends.
"They sit in a good position," Mastrangelo said. "We don't hear any complaints about service, nothing like what you hear about Comcast."
Plus, EPB's service is competitively priced. "They learned over the years ... what it was going to take to get customers to actually adopt the one-gig service," she said. "They found that sweet spot."
Mastrangelo speculated that Comcast's service would cost $150-$200 per month. EPB's 1 gbps package is $69.99 per month.
The increase in speed wouldn't necessarily justify the spread, she said. "1 gig, 2 gig -- it's kind of irrelevant, to be perfectly honest. If you were talking 1 gig and 10 gig, that would be different."
Debate aside, Comcast was eager to promote the doubled speed. "The Gig City will soon become the 2-Gig City," said Alex Horwitz, a Comcast Cable vice president of public relations.
The company also touted its other services, including home security and phone.
"It's important to step back and look at the entire offering," Guthrie said. "It doesn't go unnoticed that we're doing this with our own investors' dollars." Comcast reports having made $2 billion in capital investments in Tennessee since 1996.
Comcast's planned upgrade should draw even more innovative companies to Chattanooga and make the city more relevant to tech companies that are developing new products, said Mike Bradshaw, executive director of Chattanooga's business accelerator Co.Lab. "This will widen the opportunity for Chattanooga to capitalize on its first-mover advantage in ultra-high-speed networking."
Chattanooga is Comcast's fourth Gigabit Pro announcement. In addition to the Atlanta metro area, the San Francisco Bay area and four Florida areas will get it, too.
Comcast reports that Gigabit Pro can reach an estimated 1.5 million customers in Atlanta and 1.3 million customers in Florida areas that include Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Jacksonville. The company said it expects the service to be available to 18 million homes nationwide by the end of the year.
In the future, Comcast plans to transition to DOCSIS 3.1, which uses modems and would be more seamless in terms of delivery. The company is investing in the technology and plans to test it later this year, with deployment in 2016, Guthrie said.
Contact staff writer Mitra Malek at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6406. Follow her on Twitter @MitraMalek.