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AT&T Takes On Google as It Announces Fiber Optic Internet Services

The arms race to provide high-speed, fiber optic Internet service to consumer households is ramping up, with AT&T announcing its intention to provide a new service in more than 100 cities across the U.S. The move is seen as a direct challenge to Google, which introduced its popular Google Fiber service in 2012. By signaling its entry into the blazingly fast fiber optic Internet business, AT&T leads other Internet providers, who are expected to follow suit in the coming years.

Why Fiber Optic Internet?

Internet subscribers are increasingly dissatisfied with their current options, with many expressing frustration with high-speed DSL plans that often range from 3 to 15 Mbps download speeds. Fiber optic technology, which converts electrical signals to light and transmits them through extraordinarily thin fibers, permits speeds exponentially better than existing technology that relies on copper lines.

Google Fiber boasts download speeds of 1 Gbps, over 100 times faster than those currently found in most American households. As AT&T begins to roll out its “U-Verse with GigaPower” service, it’s offering users speeds of up to 300 Mbps. The company promises to match Google’s offering of 1 Gbps by the end of 2014.

Facing Off: AT&T vs. Google

AT&T has yet to officially launch its GigaPower initiative and bring it into consumers’ homes, but the company has announced its intention to roll out the network in Austin, Texas, and Dallas, Texas, within the next few years. AT&T representatives say the company is in “advanced discussions” with Winston-Salem, N.C., and Raleigh-Durham, N.C., suggesting that they will be the next targets for GigaPower. In total, the company announced that it is considering bringing the fiber optic service to 100 cities in 21 metro areas through the U.S., including Atlanta, Chicago, Kansas City, Cleveland, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville, San Diego, St. Louis, San Francisco, and San Jose.

Industry experts note the overlap between AT&T’s targets and the areas in talks to receive Google Fiber within the next few years. Kansas City and Austin were the inaugural areas for Google Fiber service, meaning that the two Internet giants would go head-to-head in those regions if AT&T continues with its current plans. And just two months before AT&T’s announcement, Google Fiber acknowledged its intention to expand its services in Raleigh-Durham, Atlanta, San Antonio, San Jose, and Phoenix, areas that AT&T also intends to target. Whether this competition will drive down prices or force the companies to provide other incentives for consumers remains to be seen.

Watch carefully over the coming months as AT&T, Google, and other Internet providers vie for dominance in the fiber optic arena. Although Verizon has established a comparable FiOS Internet and television service in 20 cities, including New York, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and Los Angeles, speeds top out at 500 Mbps, and prices remain high. Whether consumers will be prepared to pay extra for blazing fast Internet speeds remains an open question, although AT&T and Google certainly intend to find out.