Spooked By Specter Of Competition, AT&T Considering Gigabit Fiber Expansion In 25 Cities

In a move that could theoretically bring something like the actual first glimmering hint of real broadband competition to a couple million more consumers nationwide, AT&T today announced major plans for expansion to their “GigaPower” Uverse service. The expansion could potentially bring the gigabit fiber broadband network to as many as 25 major metropolitan areas.

AT&T already offers their GigaPower service in Austin and is launching soon in Dallas. Their announcement today brings the full list of cities are considering potentially expanding into to include: Atlanta, Augusta, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Ft. Lauderdale, Ft. Worth, Greensboro, Jacksonville, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville, Oakland, Orlando, Raleigh/Durham, St. Louis, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, and Winston-Salem.

Much as with Google’s fiber expansion plan announcement earlier this year, there’s no guarantee that AT&T will expand to all of the potential markets, of course. As their press release makes clear, top consideration will go to “communities that have suitable network facilities” and that make the best business cases “based on anticipated demand and the most receptive policies.” In other words, the cities that will cut them the biggest tax breaks and that can guarantee them the highest number of subscribers.

And speaking of Google Fiber, they already operate in Kansas City, are expanding in Austin and Provo, and have also announced potential expansion to include Atlanta, Charlotte, Nashville, Phoenix, Portland, Raleigh/Durham, Salt Lake City, San Antonio, and San Jose.

In other words, six out of the nine markets where Google has said they might soon expand their Fiber service, and two of the three where they already run it, are also on AT&T’s potential gigabit shortlist. That’s 75% of Google’s potential areas, and that’s probably a bit too much to be strictly coincidental.

The overlap is no doubt due at least in part to the fact that low-hanging fruit is low-hanging for everyone. Several of the cities on the list already have fiber laid out that isn’t in use or are sprawling cities (rather than steeply vertical ones like New York) where running infrastructure can be easier. Cities like Winston-Salem and Raleigh and Durham have also already indicated their willingness to work with a company willing to run gigabit broadband to the area.

But there’s probably more than just convenience driving AT&T’s list of potential targets. When consumers get their hands on gigabit connections, they love them. Google’s list of potential new cities was, as much as anything else, a warning that they intend to plant their flag and claim at least some of those territories. It’s not at all surprising that a competitor would suddenly feel the urge to get there first.

And of course, it’s not just other fiber companies that AT&T is really worried about competing against. With Comcast and Time Warner Cable’s proposed merger working its way through the regulatory process, there could well be a huge new national player in almost every town before the end of the year.

Now a select few cities (lucky, lucky Austin) are suddenly finding themselves with an embarrassment of riches, and have multiple companies clamoring to offer super-fast, efficient broadband. Most of us are not yet so fortunate. Are we on the cusp of a corporate race to bring gigabit broadband to the masses? Only time will tell. In the meantime, if you want to start downloading faster it seems like North Carolina and Texas are the places to be.

AT&T Eyes 100 U.S. Cities and Municipalities for its Ultra-Fast Fiber Network [AT&T Press Release]

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.