Gigabit South: The Next Big Thing?

By Doug Mohney June 16, 2015

Atlanta, Raleigh-Durham, Charlotte, Chattanooga, and Huntsville can all boast about their latest and forthcoming broadband deployments. The South is shaping up to be a battleground for gigabit—and faster—speeds, but it isn't clear who the winners and losers will be when the smoke clears. 

Our first stop on the Gigabit South tour is in Charlotte. AT&T has launched U-verse with "AT&T GigaPower"—in other word, service up to 1 gigabit per second—for residential and small business customers in parts of Charlotte and surrounding communities. Subscribers will continue to have access to U-verse TV services, so they can have broadband as well as Game of Thrones.

AT&T says it plans to expand "its 100 percent fiber network in up to 25 markets," but the press release touting Charlotte high-speed service mentions nothing about those plans being slowed due to concerns about more Federal Communication Commission (FCC) regulation.  Instead, AT&T says it will expand the AT&T GigaPower (gigabit fiber) network to an additional 2 million customer locations if it is allowed to acquire DIRECTV.

The Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina is shaping up to be a hotbed for gigabit fiber deployments. AT&T, Google, and Frontier have all said they are going to deploy fiber in the "Triangle" area. On the "donut" outskirts in areas such as Wake Forest, CenturyLink is in the process of deploying its own gigabit fiber offerings.

Image via Shutterstock

Atlanta is an interesting study in gigabit promises. Comcast vowed to bring 2 Gbps to homes by the end of May via upgraded cable infrastructure, but there's been some delay in its plans. Google Fiber says its coming to Atlanta, but hasn't said when it will start deployment, leaving AT&T as the only game in town for gigabit speeds.

Chattanooga's journey to gigabit speeds has been run through the courts and the FCC. The local electric utility moved to install fiber in part to start a smart grid deployment, as well as to provide a competitive cable TV service in 2008. Comcast, the incumbent vendor, first went to court and then to lobby at the state level to try and block the build.   Both efforts failed, so now Comcast is planning to deploy 2 Gbps service for up to 200,000 customers initially with expansion taking place locally over several months.

High-speed broadband is only a part of the story. Building on top of 1 Gbps broadband, Chattanooga is now promoting GIGTANK, a "boutique accelerator" for high-tech startups, as part of a larger effort to transform the local economy. The Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce is playing the gig card hard, and has managed to lure several companies to relocate operations away from high cost-of-living areas to the city. It isn't quite Silicon Valley, but then again, maybe it shouldn't be.

For some, gigabit speeds aren't enough. Huntsville and Madison, Alabama are going to get a $15 million, 120 mile loop network capable of delivering 100 Gbps speeds. Southern Light plans to sell service to the tech community in the region, including universities, hospitals, banks, aerospace and defense firms, and the Army. One of the anchor customers announced last week is the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology. The non-profit lives and breathes leading-edge genetic research, processing more than 15.6 TB of raw sequenced DNA data per month. 

Sorting through the economic effects of gig-rate broadband can be perplexing. Chattanooga can point to a combination of technology and heavy-duty, old-fashioned civic leadership hustle to make gig speeds work and bring in new tech-centric business. Huntsville is a more interesting case, with organizations like HudsonAlpha practically crying out for the fastest network connectivity economically available as soon as possible, so there's a business pull as much as a local leadership push to get high-speed network connectivity.

Other areas, such as Atlanta, Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham, are getting gigabit service due to a combination of Google Fiber-stimulated competition and a clear recognition by incumbent service providers that local businesses and institutions want high-speed network connectivity. There's no one-size-fits all solution across the South.




Edited by Dominick Sorrentino

Contributing Editor

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