As Google Fiber approaches in Austin, Time Warner ups broadband speeds

Time Warner Cable home subscribers will get big jumps in broadband speed at no extra cost

With Google Fiber about to begin a fiber Internet service in Austin, Texas, Time Warner Cable said Thursday it is increasing home broadband speeds in the city by up to six times while keeping the price flat.

The move is a powerful demonstration of the effects of competition in the telecom market. It comes a day after Google announced plans to significantly expand the reach of its broadband data service and as regulators are weighing the effects on competition of a proposed acquisition of Time Warner Cable by Comcast.

Time Warner said all Austin customers will see download speeds increase. At the low end, the US$15-per-month 2Mbps (megabit-per-second) service will be increased to 3Mbps downstream. The $65-per-month "Ultimate" 50Mbps service will see download speeds rise to as fast as 300Mbps. Upload speeds will jump at all tariffs except for the $15 service. "Ultimate" uploads will jump from 5Mbps to 20Mbps.

Time Warner said the speeds will be offered by the fall of 2014. Google has promised it will begin connecting homes to its Fiber service from the middle of the year.

Time Warner didn't explicitly mention Google's looming Austin launch in a news release, but the company did take a dig at the search engine and advertising giant.

"In stark contrast to our competitors, upon completion of this short rollout phase, these faster speeds and choices will be available to every Time Warner Cable customer in every area we serve in the Austin market, not just select neighborhoods," Kathy Brabson, the area vice president of operations for Time Warner Cable in Central Texas, said in the release.

Google has yet to announce which neighborhoods will get access to its Fiber service and hasn't announced its prices, but in Provo, Utah, and Kansas City -- the only two places where the service is currently available -- it costs $70 per month for Internet service and $120 per month with the addition of cable TV.

Time Warner's move is exactly the kind of thing Google is hoping to prompt with its entry into the consumer Internet business, said Jeff Kagan, a technology industry analyst.

"Broadband has been growing and speeding up year after year in the U.S., so there's nothing new with that," he said. "But Google wanted more speed faster than the network schedule. They are speeding up the transformation of high-speed Internet."

At present, most consumers don't need such fast connections. A gigabit connection might mean a Netflix or Amazon movie downloads in a few seconds rather than a few minutes, but there aren't many other applications -- for now.

"Consumers didn't need all the speed they were getting from their cable company five years ago. Now they do," he said.

Kagan speculated that future connections may need to go faster as more devices share the same broadband pipe and new applications, such as telemedicine, become more commonplace.

On Wednesday, Google announced a list of 34 candidate cities where its Fiber service could expand next. The company said it will talk with municipalities throughout 2014 before announcing firm expansion plans.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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