This time next week, on Monday Sept. 28, select communities in San Antonio will be able to sign up for AT&T’s super-fast GigaPower Internet service, which promises to deliver Internet speeds of up to one gigabit per second. While she declined to say where exactly the service would be available in San Antonio starting on Monday, AT&T’s Executive Director of External Affairs Renée Flores said GigaPower will be available to customers in “geographically diverse” neighborhoods.
Existing and potential customers will have to check their accounts or enter in their zip codes next week at www.att.com/gigapower to find out if they’re eligible and to see price packages/bundling options. The monthly charge might follow other Texas cities’ trends, falling in the $70-$110 range.
In recent years, downloading a single song from the Internet would take about 25 seconds, said AT&T Vice President and General Manager Larry Evans during a pre-launch announcement on Monday. “With GigaPower, you can download 25 songs in one second,” and a high-definition movie in about 30 seconds.
City Council members and City staff, including City Manager Sheryl Sculley joined AT&T executives to celebrate the announcement.
Faster Internet simply makes life more convenient for the average customer willing to pay a premium for faster access, but it’s also good for the local technology industries and small businesses in all fields, said Mayor Ivy Taylor.
“Speeds of up to one gigabit per second can also have a real impact on our economic future,” Taylor said. “Super-fast access to data and cloud based services aren’t a nice extra, they are now essential for anyone who wants to compete globally. And businesses seeking to relocate and expand look for state of the art technology such as (GigaPower).”
Earlier this summer, Internet giant Google announced its plans to install its own gigabit-speed fiber optic network, Google Fiber, in San Antonio nearly a year after AT&T said it was bringing GigaPower to San Antonio in July 2014. City officials and tech industry leaders welcomed the competition for the San Antonio market.
“Today is a really big deal because it signals to the world that San Antonio is a tier one battleground for broadband services and investment by all the major providers,” said TechBloc Co-Founder David Heard. “The competition therein results in direct benefits for our citizens, higher speeds, more access, and more affordable options for everyone.”
To establish its all-fiber network, AT&T has the advantage of having already established infrastructure, employees, customers, and municipal relationships in San Antonio and hundreds of cities nationwide. Locally, the telecommunications company has been around for more than 130 years, employs about 3,700 people, and has invested more than $475 million into the local economy, Flores said.
“We’re fortunate that (AT&T network employees have) the expertise, knowledge, and enthusiasm, to make this happen,” she said. They’ve been working on upgrading and expanding AT&T’s network for more than a year to prepare for the new service and to bring “championship speeds for a championship city.”
Crews will be finalizing connections throughout the week and have coordinated with the City’s Transportation and Capital Improvement (TCI) department to make sure the permitting and implementation process goes as smoothly as possible – minimizing impacts to pedestrian and vehicle traffic. AT&T’s fiber optic network will live on existing telephone and electricity poles in some places and in buried utility lines in others.
“Now comes the actual deployment,” said Mike Frisbee, TCI director and City engineer. A similar permitting process is underway with Google Fiber. “It’s a parallel process with both organizations. Competition is very good for the consumer. We’re going to make sure that we take care of them both.”
AT&T and CPS Energy, the publicly owned electricity utility, own almost all utility poles in San Antonio and they use each other’s infrastructure to connect customers to services. It’s unlikely that AT&T will extend such a courtesy to Google.
“(Google is) exploring their best approaches, but some of it will be trenching (buried),” Frisbee said.
Typically, Google Fiber takes at least a few years to launch in a city after it announces its intentions. Google Fiber has started services in communities in Austin, Provo, Utah, and Kansas City and has identified six more that it will service in the coming years – including San Antonio. Another six are on the list as “potential” Google Fiber cities. GigaPower is live in 15 cities, according to its service map, including Austin and Kansas City. The Dallas-based telecommunications company typically has a larger service footprint.
“New business equals new jobs and it’s imperative that we improve our job readiness and basic digital literacy in our community so that more San Antonians can have access to prosperity,” Taylor said, citing the recent digital inclusion initiative, ConnectHome, recently announced by President Barack Obama.
The pilot program, operated through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) – of which former Mayor Julián Castro is secretary – plans to reach more than 275,000 low-income households at first, about 200,000 children, “with the support they need to access the Internet at home,” according to a White House news release.
“America’s challenge in this 21st century is to remain the world’s undisputed land of opportunity,” stated Secretary Castro. “By expanding broadband adoption, ConnectHome will provide more Americans with the same high-speed access to knowledge and opportunity that millions of people already enjoy.”
San Antonio was selected as one of 28 communities for the program. Google Fiber is participating in the program. AT&T, while active in other access initiatives like ConnectEd, is not listed as a contributor to ConnectHome.
*Top image: An AT&T GigaPower vehicle parked in front of the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. Photo by Scott Ball.