CenturyLink Tees Up 1 Gig Test in Omaha

CenturyLink will join the nation’s 1 Gig club this fall when the telco lights up fiber upgrades connecting a pocket of 48,000 homes in Omaha, Neb., a move that will apply speed pressure on incumbent cable operator Cox Communications.

CenturyLink said its coming fiber-to-the-premises test network will hook into its recently upgraded 100 Gigabit per second backbone. The telco will begin to connect eligible customers to its 1 Gigabit per second service on Monday, May 6, and expects to expand it to all 48,000 customers by early October, a CenturyLink spokeswoman said.

It was not immediately known how area homes will become eligible for the telco’s 1 Gig test. But homes that are will pay $79.95 per month for the 1 Gbps offer when bundled with other CenturyLink services, or $149.95 per month as a stand-alone. Business customers will need to call the telco to obtain pricing information, the CenturyLink official added.

CenturyLink said it will evaluate the deployment before determining where else it might implement similar upgrades, but noted that determining factors will include “positive community support, competitive parity in the marketplace and the ability to earn a reasonable return on its investment.”

"This demonstrates our commitment to deliver communications solutions that provide our customers with the technology they need to enhance their quality of life, now and into the future,” said CenturyLink chief operating officer Karen Puckett, in a statement.

CenturyLink’s plan is already having a political effect. "I'm proud that CenturyLink has chosen Omaha for its 1 Gig pilot and really believe that the sky is the limit for our local tech community now that they'll have access to the fastest Internet speeds in the country,” added U.S. Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.)

Cox, CenturyLink’s primary competitor in the market, offers a handful of residential broadband packages in Omaha (opens in new tab), including the top-end, DOCSIS 3.0-powered Ultimate tier, which delivers downstream speeds up to 150 Mbps and 20 Mbps upstream for $99.99 per month, or $82.99 for the first three months if customers sign up online. Depending on the area, CenturyLink’s current high-end residential Internet service offers speeds up to 40 Mbps.

Cox has upgraded its Ultimate residential high-speed Internet package to 150 Mbps in several markets, including Omaha, and expects to deploy similar upgrades nationally this year, a Cox spokesman said Wednesday. “This upgrade is available to all Cox customers within our footprint and isn’t limited to a specific geographic region.”

Cox’s 25 Mbps tier is the MSO’s most popular and “meets the needs of the majority of customers,” he added. Cox has not announced plans to launch a residential 1 Gig service, but the spokesman noted that the MSO already delivers speeds up to 10 Gbps to businesses via fiber. “We will continue to talk with our customers and invest in product enhancements to provide an optimal broadband experience,” he added.

CenturyLink is just one of a growing number of ISPs that are rolling out or testing 1 Gig speeds following the emergence of Google Fiber, which offers services in Kansas City and is positioned to do the same in Provo, Utah, later this year once it completes its acquisition of the city’s iProvo fiber network. Google Fiber also plans to offer its bundle of broadband and IPTV services in Austin, Texas, starting in mid-2014.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski praised the move, pointing out that last January he called for the creation of gigabit communities nationwide.

"Ultra-fast broadband speeds will unleash next-generation apps and services nationwide that will fuel innovation, U.S. economic growth, and our global competitiveness." he said in a statement. "Today’s announcement that CenturyLink will bring gigabit service to Omaha makes it the latest in a series of communities, including Austin, Chattanooga, Kansas City, Lafayette and Provo, to move us closer to meeting that challenge."