CUPERTINO — This city is about to get a GigaPower boost to speed up Internet service.
AT&T is set to announce Wednesday it will bring super-fast broadband service, dubbed GigaPower, to Apple's hometown. It promises download speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second, which is fast enough to download a high-definition movie in half a minute and is 100 times faster than the connection in the average American home.
Cupertino will be the first city west of the Rockies to get the service. The telecom giant's service upgrade in Cupertino follows Google's decision to reject this city's bid Google's rival fiber service.
"We're really, really excited," said Mayor Gilbert Wong. "The council made it a priority to bring fast, reliable Internet to the city."
AT&T hopes to offer the service to Cupertino residents as early as December, or early next year, Ken McNeeley, president of AT&T's California operations, said Tuesday. The company hopes to to roll out service to other Bay Area cities early in 2015 and to San Jose in the first half of next year, he said.
But those time lines aren't firm and are dependent in part on how long it takes to go through the permitting process in each city, McNeeley said.
AT&T spokesman Alex Carey later backed away from that timeline, saying the company wasn't comfortable with announcing firm dates for the rollout. AT&T hasn't set pricing for the service. But in Austin, it charges $70 a month for gigabit Internet access alone and $150 for a "triple play" package that includes phone services and a pay TV service with 200 channels.
AT&T's GigaPower service runs over fiber optic cables brought directly to consumers' homes. It's similar to Google's Fiber service and represents a step up from AT&T's existing high-speed U-verse service.
Currently, the fastest speed Bay Area residents can typically get through U-verse is 45 megabits per second, or about one-twentieth the speed of the company's GigaPower offering. By contrast, Comcast, which is the dominant Internet access provider in the Bay Area, offers speeds of up to 150 megabits per second to residences, though it offers faster service to businesses.
But gigabit speeds would be a big jump from Comcast's current offerings. Gigabit service would provide much faster downloads and quicker Internet access to more people and devices within particular households. It also could enable new kinds of Internet applications in the same way that the move from dial-up Internet to broadband made possible the wide adoption of streaming music, movies and graphic-rich online games.
To date, only a handful of cities in the United States have access to gigabit Internet service. Google offers Google Fiber in the Kansas City area and is considering bringing it to the Bay Area but has not said when. AT&T offers GigaPower in Austin and Dallas. And Chattanooga, Tennessee, offers gigabit service through its own city-controlled broadband network.
But some analysts are skeptical about the rollout plans. "Most of these are, as it's been termed, 'fiber to the press release,'" said Teresa Mastrangelo, an analyst with Broadbandtrends, a market research firm.
Even where companies have started to roll out new higher speed Internet services, they often offer it only in certain neighborhoods of a city.
"It's a good thing that there are more options for high speed (Internet access) to consumers, but if they cherry pick markets, you can get into a situation that increases the digital divide," said John Simpson, director of the privacy project for Consumer Watchdog, an advocacy group.