AT&T unveils ultra-fast broadband in central Arkansas, service now in state’s two largest markets

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AT&T on Tuesday (Dec. 13) unveiled its long-awaited “ultra-fast” one gigabit Internet service that will be available immediately to specific locations in central Arkansas, including Little Rock, Bryant, Maumelle, North Little Rock and surrounding communities.

The telecom and wireless giant first announced in October that the Northwest Arkansas area was one of 67 metros where it is making its AT&T Fiber internet service available.

During a ceremony at the Cumberland Manor Apartments in Little Rock, company officials said central Arkansas is now one of 44 metros nationwide where the service is available at 3 million locations, including more than 500,000 apartments and condo units.

“Deployment of this ultra-fast Internet service is just the latest step in delivering the newest technology to more Arkansans,” said Ed Drilling, president of AT&T Arkansas. “Our customers are increasingly interacting with their world in more data-intensive ways, so we’re happy to deliver AT&T’s fastest internet speeds to the Little Rock area.”

AT&T first announced plans to roll out its speedy broadband service in the Little Rock, Fort Smith and Northwest Arkansas metropolitan areas nearly a year ago. The new service will provide internet speeds up to 1 gigabit per second, which will allow users to almost instantly download online movies, music, games and more, officials said.

In describing the speed of the new service, Drilling joked at the holiday-themed press event that the new service was “as fast as Santa Claus with reindeer in tow.”

“You can download 20 holiday songs in about one second, or you can download and HD version of a movie in less than 34 seconds. It’s fast,” he said.

AT&T first launched its gigabit internet service in Austin, Texas, nearly 3-1/2 years ago. That led to a major expansion in multiple metros beginning in 2014, and AT&T said it expects to more than double availability by the end of 2016. Ultimately, the Dallas-based telecom and wireless giant said it hopes to provide the 100% fiber network to more than 12.5 million residential and commercial locations across the U.S by mid-2019, which is slightly below earlier forecasts of 14 million.

Drilling told the crowd of local dignitaries that AT&T has invested more than $1 billion in upgrading its wireless and wired networks over the past five years. Between 2013 through 2015, more than $550 million of the investments targeted a wide range of upgrades to reliability, coverage, speed and overall performance for residents and businesses, Drilling said.

“Under any circumstance, that is a mega-project,” Drilling said. “If you said to somebody five years ago that you would have invested a billion dollars in infrastructure in the state, you might be having a special session up here at (the State Capitol) to issue some bonds to make that happen.”

Rep. Warwick Sabin, D-Little Rock, also applauded the broadband upgrade by AT&T.

“I look forward to seeing how this evolves and expands and how Arkansas is put in a position to truly be a leader in economic development, education, healthcare and other industries going forward in the 21st Century,” Sabin said.

AT&T’s internet upgrade in Arkansas’ largest market comes as rival cable operators like Comcast and Cox, rural telecom providers like CenturyLink and Windstream, Arkansas electric cooperatives and smaller telecom providers like Pinnacle Communications are all engaged in a high-stakes battle in across the U.S. to bundle internet, wireless, home security, TV and streaming services to broadband-hungry consumers.

Last month, Comcast Business said it installed a multimillion-dollar fiber optic network in Little Rock capable of delivering up to 100-gigabit speeds. Atlanta-based Cox Communications was the first to announce it is actively deploying fiber optic infrastructure in parts of Northwest Arkansas in the fall of 2014. Cox has said that its residential gigabit service will be available in all of its markets by the end of this year.

Drilling said initially AT&T will roll-out the “AT&T Fiber” branded gigabit service in several specific neighborhoods across central Arkansas. Over the next few years, the state’s largest telecom will gradually expand the coverage area to the rest of the region – much like the company’s first generation UVerse broadband buildout over the last decade.

AT&T spokesman Anita Smith also said the company will offer special packages for as gamers, binge TV watchers and other video streamers, schools, hospitals and businesses that are looking for the fastest Internet speeds possible to fit their growing needs.

A year ago, Comcast instituted a data usage limit on customers using more than 300 gigabytes (GB) of data on the cable, entertainment and media giant’s local internet network, charging them an extra $35 a month to buy 50 extra gigabytes. Similarly, most telecom, wireless and cable companies now charge gamers and other heavy data users extra for faster internet speeds to download data and streaming content that can slow network traffic during periods of high use. According to AT&T’s promotional materials, the company’s pricing for the fastest speed tier of internet service will start at about $90 a month.