By Eric Frazier
Facing stiff competition in Charlotte from AT&T and possibly Google, Time Warner Cable said Thursday that it plans to bring faster Internet speeds and enhanced TV service to Charlotte and six other metro areas.
Time Warner said it will upgrade next year to speeds up to six times faster than its current broadband service in Charlotte, Raleigh, Dallas, Hawaii, Kansas City, San Antonio and San Diego. Current Internet customers will get the faster speeds and upgraded DVR service at no additional cost, the company said.
The new metro areas will join Los Angeles, New York City and Austin, Texas, which will complete their rollout of the new service by the end of 2014. The new service is called TWC Maxx.
Thursday's announcement marks the latest promise of digital goodies from Internet and telecommunications giants elbowing for position in Charlotte's rapidly evolving broadband marketplace.
Google expects to decide by year's end whether Charlotte makes the cut.
AT&T quickly announced that it also was considering Charlotte for its similarly fast GigaPower service, and Wednesday the company said GigaPower will definitely come to Charlotte.
The timing of the service's rollout and price remain unclear. Time Warner Cable has more than 480,000 Charlotte-area customers. Speeds will increase by varying degrees depending on the subscriber's Internet plan. There will be no extra charge to customers, who typically won't have to do anything to get the faster speeds. Some might need to upgrade their modems.
The new service will also come with enhanced TV and DVR capability as the company converts to an all-digital network, upgrading analog TV channels.
Officials said customers will be able to record six shows simultaneously rather than the current two. They'll be able to store 150 hours of high definition programming, two to six times current capacity.
Company spokesman Scott Pryzwansky said Thursday's announcement wasn't a reaction to the recent moves by AT&T and Google. He said Time Warner had long earmarked the second quarter to roll out its expansion plan.
It remains to be seen whether the new features will keep Time Warner Cable customers from jumping to the even faster speeds from AT&T's GigaPower or Google Fiber, should it come to Charlotte.
Asked why the company isn't launching its own fiber-optic network with equally fast speeds, Pryzwansky said that by going all-digital Time Warner is "laying the groundwork" for faster speeds and new features later.
"Competition is nothing new to us," he said. "We're just one player in a large, competitive field."
One telecommunications analyst said she believes Google's interest in Charlotte prompted the new offerings from AT&T and Time Warner. The stiffer competition, however, likely makes it tougher for Google to launch here.
Google's interest "lit a fire under your existing operators, AT&T and Time Warner," said Teresa Mastrangelo, head of the Virginia-based Broadbandtrends market analysis and consulting firm.
Google "will have to make a business decision ... if we are going to be faced with this competition from AT&T and Time Warner, will we be able to capture enough market share?"
In perhaps a sign of how competitive the Charlotte market will be, Pryzwansky noted that all Time Warner customers in the Charlotte area will get TWC Maxx upgrades, not just those in selected neighborhoods.
Google, in rolling out its Fiber service elsewhere, has offered it only in selected areas. AT&T hasn't said where it will offer its GigaPower service in Charlotte.
Time Warner Cable business customers, who already get gigabit speeds, will be able to get even faster broadband service from TWC Maxx, Pryzwansky said.
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