Comcast to offer faster Web connection speeds

The Baltimore Sun

Comcast customers will get a boost in their Internet connection speeds - with the option of paying more for significantly faster performance - under new technology that the company introduced yesterday in the Baltimore area.

The Philadelphia-based cable operator has been steadily rolling out the faster technology, which enables higher-paying subscribers to download high-definition movies in 16 minutes, in its major markets across the United States. Company officials said the new offering will be available to residents in Annapolis and in Howard and Anne Arundel counties.

The company, which has about 1 million customers in Maryland, has faced competition from Verizon, which has been expanding its fiber-optic high-speed network, known as FiOS. The faster network, which Comcast described as "wideband," is meant to go toe to toe with Verizon's new network.

Comcast subscribers in Baltimore and other areas around the city will have access to the new services by mid-2009, company officials said.

Comcast said that through hardware and software upgrades, it has been able to increase the capacity and speed of its cable networks. "The download experience is extraordinary," said Charlie Douglas, a Comcast spokesman.

Douglas said that Comcast has had plans to introduce its faster wideband network - based on a new data-over-cable technological specification known as DOCSIS 3.0 - to 10 major markets this year.

The company has launched the technology in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Philadelphia, the Boston metropolitan area and southern New Hampshire, parts of New Jersey, and cities in Washington and Oregon.

Yesterday, the company announced the new service in Baltimore, Atlanta, Chicago and Fort Wayne, Ind.

Douglas said Comcast subscribers in the current launch areas in the Baltimore region will soon start to see download speeds that, in most cases, will double. For instance, those who experience 6 megabits-per-second download speeds in Comcast's "performance" tier will be upgraded to 16 megabits per second.

"They will get upgraded without having to lift a finger," Douglas said.

For heavy-duty residential users willing to pay more, Comcast is offer two new pricing options. The "Extreme 50" offers up to 50 megabits per second of download speeds and 10 Mbps upload speeds. Price: $139.95 per month.

That price is the same as Verizon's top-tiered "Fastest" plan, though Verizon claims to offer 20 megabits-per-second upload speeds for its top plan.

"Clearly, Comcast is trying to catch up with Verizon," said Sandra Arnette, a Verizon spokeswoman. "But, we're faster, more reliable and offer more services and choice of services."

Verizon's FiOS network is offered in areas around Baltimore - but a date for its debut in the city has not been announced. Comcast's second-tier price plan offers 22 megabits-per-second download speeds and up to 5 megabits-per-second upload speeds for $62.95 a month. Details on whether Comcast's new Internet offerings will be bundled with other services, such as phone and television, at one monthly price were not available.

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