As many of you may know, AT&T has been responding to Google Fiber with a gigabit broadband deployment of its own, primarily aimed at high-end housing developments where fiber is already in the ground. Dubbed AT&T U-Verse with “Gigapower,” the service first appeared in Google Fiber markets like Austin, though AT&T tried to claim this timing was entirely coincidental. As with similar offerings from companies like CenturyLink, it’s part of an industry push to at least give the impression that they’re keeping pace with Google Fiber and gigabit municipal broadband deployments, even if the announcements often tend to be more impressive than the actual deployments (something I affectionately call “fiber to the press release”).
Given this is AT&T, there are of course several caveats. One being that the company’s promise to deploy the service to “up to 100 cities” is a bit of a bluff aimed at making the telco appear cutting edge, since it’s actually consistently slashing its fixed-line investment budget. The actual deployment is much, much smaller (as in a few housing developments in a dozen markets or so), and AT&T’s ambiguous projection numbers tend to ebb and flow depending on what AT&T’s trying to get from the government. The other is that users need to pay $40 to $60 more if they want to opt out of AT&T’s “Internet Preferences” snoopvertising, which uses deep packet inspection to track online behavior down to the second.
In short, yes it’s competition — but it’s AT&T’s special brand of competition. Still, it highlights the fact that Google Fiber markets very quickly see a much-needed industry response on both speed and price. Case in point: in the markets where Google Fiber is present, AT&T’s gigabit offering costs significantly less, whether it’s a standalone gigabit line, or a bundle. For example, this is the pricing seen by an AT&T customer in Austin, where Google Fiber is present:
Last week, AT&T launched the service in select parts of Cupertino, California where there’s no Google Fiber pricing pressure. This is what local Cupertino users see when they try to sign up for service:
So yes, it’s pretty clear it doesn’t take much for pampered duopolists to respond to real price competition. The problem is despite the fact that Google Fiber is nearly five years old, its actual footprint remains fairly small, with only portions of Austin, Provo and Kansas City online so far. And that’s a company with billions to spend and a massive lobbying apparatus that can take aim at the sector’s regulatory capture. That’s why community broadband and public/private partnerships become such an integral part of trying to light a fire under the U.S. broadband industry, as are the attempts to dismantle ISP protectionist state laws aimed at keeping these speeds and real price competition far, far away from most U.S. broadband markets.