01.23.2005 08:00 AM
Comcast to boost broadband speed; push new video services

With Baby Bell local phone providers making inroads with cheaper but slower DSL service, cable companies are trying to compete with speed rather than price.

Comcast will begin rolling faster broadband service this quarter at no extra cost, CNET reported. The cable operator’s current download speed of up to 3Mb/s will jump to 4Mb/s. Upload rates of 256Kb/s will reach 384Kb/s.

Customers of Comcast’s more expensive 4Mb/s service will see a 50 percent increase to 6Mb/s downstream and 768Kb/s upstream.

Speed has been a key differentiator for the nation’s major cable providers. Time Warner Cable said last December that it would raise its basic download speed to 5Mb/s from 3Mb/s. Months earlier, Cox Communications said it would raise its speed limit from 3Mb/s to 4Mb/s. Faster speeds may help justify cable subscriptions that average $45 a month when the Bells sell DSL — which typically clocks in at 1.5Mb/s — for as low as $26.95 a month.

Broadband has become the central battleground between cable and the Bells. So far, the phone companies lag in overall broadband market share, with about 40 percent to cable’s 60 percent. Comcast remains the largest broadband provider with 6.5 million subscribers. In the intense fight for one another’s customers, each side is packaging other services, such as video and voice, into its broadband bundles.

As it has increased Internet connection speeds, Comcast has been giving customers more to do with that bandwidth. Its Comcast.net home page has become more of a media portal, with emphasis on higher-bandwidth services such as video news clips, on-demand video games, a flashier interface and more personalization tools.

Comcast this year is expected to introduce more of these higher-bandwidth services. Earlier this week, the company said it would launch its own instant messenger service, which will support live video streaming over Web cams.

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