Internet speed wars heating up in Michigan – Detroit Free Press
Ultra-high-speed Internet service has arrived inÂ Michigan and could be spreading toÂ your neighborhood blockÂ or apartment building next year.
ThisÂ new class ofÂ broadband runsÂ at 1-gigabit per-second, fast enough to download music albums in less than a second andÂ HDÂ movies in lessÂ aÂ minute. The higher speeds come at a higher price, generally about $70 a month, not including initialÂ promotions.
Battling to connect metro Detroit’s Internet consumersÂ are traditional cable companies such as Comcast and AT&T that are starting toÂ turboÂ chargeÂ their offerings,Â and speedyÂ startups with names to match their service, includingÂ Detroit-based Rocket Fiber and East Lansing-based LightSpeed Communications.
The break-neck speeds represent a new evolution in Internet service from providers large and small, which are aggressively competing for new business. The new and intense advertising on billboards and all around illustrates the increasing marketing power of Internet speed in attracting new customers.
They include urban dwellers and businesses — tech startups and others — looking for cheap rent but also the benefits of cutting edge fiber optic. The customer base is also increasingly suburban households and traditional businesses looking for speed.
Faster speeds allow businesses to handle multiple streams of large-format, high-definition content such as online video calls, immersive educational experiences and large volumes of medical data. It’s especially important, officials have said, in areas like Detroit that seek to become tech centers and want Â to attract new businesses.
The new servicesÂ will not be available everywhere in the state, at least at first. But 2016 couldÂ be the first year that a significant number of Michigan households gain aÂ 1-gigabit Internet option.
Weisong Shi, a Wayne State UniversityÂ computer science professor, said speed is essential to residents, as well as businesses and communities seeking to attract them.
“This is very important to support the new paradigm of Internet usage,” he said. With mobile phones, and smart devices, people want â and need â more high-speed connectivity.Â “We are now not just consumers, we are also content producers, and you need to upload.”
Shi contends that the upload speeds eventually may become even more important than download speeds, especially as devices and people become more digitally connected.
“High-speed Internet,” he said, “is going to bring huge opportunity for people.”
Comcast and AT&TÂ
Right now aÂ few city and suburban dwellers inÂ areas of downtown Detroit, downtown Grand Rapids and some neighborhoods in Southfield and LansingÂ are already surfing at 1-gigabit throughÂ Rocket Fiber and LightSpeed.
But traditional broadband providers, eager to gain or retainÂ residential customersÂ and businesses, have beenÂ investing millions to addÂ miles of fiber-optic cables to support the new speeds.
Cable giant Comcast,Â which has 1.25 million customers in Michigan’s lower peninsula, is beginning to roll out a new 2-gigabitÂ service for some residential customers in areasÂ with high demand.
It alsoÂ plans to introduceÂ a more widespreadÂ 1-gigabit service starting next year that will run off ofÂ existing cable lines.
“ThatÂ doesn’t require us to build out a new fiber network from the ground up,” Timothy Collins, a regional senior vice president withÂ Comcast.
Comcast’sÂ 2-gig has beenÂ priced at $159 a month, $299 without promotions.
AT&T announced this month that it will offer its ownÂ 1-gig speed Internet inÂ metro DetroitÂ at some point in the near futureÂ through its GigaPower.
Yet one advantage that Comcast’s 1-gig service has over competitors is itsÂ ability to use coaxial cables already in use in many homes to offer 1-gig download speeds. In contrast, new companies that don’t have infrastructure have to digÂ trenches and layÂ new fiber optic lines to connect to individual houses or apartment buildings.
One drawback of simply upgrading cable lines, however,Â is it doesn’t boost upload speeds.Â Competing fiber-based systems are said to have equally fast downloads and uploads.
Both Comcast and Rocket Fiber have said they willÂ open retail storefronts inÂ Detroit to sell the newÂ modems and routers customers will need to handle the faster speeds, along with other devices. Both companies also have said they willÂ set up public WiFi in popularÂ spots.
Planning for the future
Gigabit speedÂ would be a vastÂ improvement over the average Internet speed in Michigan ofÂ aboutÂ 14.5 megabits-per-second, according toÂ Massachusetts-based Akamai Technologies.
But while few households may actually need all this speed,Â the Internet providersÂ say they areÂ planning for the future.Â They also are trying to keep up withÂ competition.
Rocket Fiber, bankrolled by Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert, went live in nearly two-dozenÂ downtown Detroit buildings this year, offering 1-gigÂ to 10-gigÂ speeds for residential service and a blazing 100-gigabit speed for businesses. It plans to expand to Midtown in 2016, and eventually beyond Detroit’s borders.
East Lansing-based LightSpeed connected its own 1-gig service this fall to two downtown Detroit apartment buildings â Detroit Savings Bank lofts and 1145 Washington by Capitol Park â and is addingÂ fiber into a dozenÂ other buildings, including Cobo Center. It also offers service in sections of Lansing, downtown Grand Rapids and some Southfield neighborhoods.
LightSpeed CEO Jason Schreiber said his firm was in the process of bringing fiber to downtown Detroit when it learned of Rocket Fiber’s similar plans.
“Had we known in advance, we may have chosen another location,” Schreiber said last week. “But that doesn’t change the fact that we’ve made significant investments in the city and we’re in fact more committed than ever.”
‘Innovation will come’
The benefits of super-fast broadband go beyond movie downloads.
It isÂ infrastructure that canÂ attract economic development â and make way for more technology, Â saidÂ former FCC chairman Julius Genachowski to a gathering of mayorsÂ a couple years ago.Â “If we build it, innovation will come.â
Chattanooga, Tenn. âÂ which has been calling itself Gig City â touts that it became one of the first cities to offer 1-gig Internet service when the utility EPB built a fiber network. In October, it increased speeds to 10 gigs.
âThe 1-gigabit service has already played a pivotal role in transforming our city, attracting new businesses and providing our residents with affordable high-speed connectivity,” Chattanooga’s Mayor Andy Berke said. “The 10-gig offering will continue to grow wages, diversify our local economy and propel Chattanooga as a center for technology and invention.â
Still, there areÂ concernsÂ that faster speeds could meanÂ more Internet inequality.
In Kansas City, where Google Fiber is adding 1-gig Internet, a nonprofit group, Connecting for Good, is working to make sure schoolchildren, seniors and othersÂ inÂ low-income areas are able to get Internet access at affordable prices, founder Michael Liimatta said.
Contact Frank Witsil: 313-222-5022 or email@example.com
Ultra high-speed options
Rocket Fiber:Â 1 gigabit per second,Â $70 per month in downtown Detroit;Â 10 gigs,Â $299 per month in downtown Detroit. Expanding to Midtown in 2016
LightSpeed: 1 gig,Â $65 per month in downtown Detroit, andÂ $49 on up in downtown Grand Rapids, Lansing, Southfield neighborhoods.
Comcast:Â 1 gig,Â to start in parts ofÂ Michigan in 2016, prices not set;Â 2 gigs,Â under construction in some parts of Michigan. Promotional pricing atÂ $159 perÂ month.
A&T:Â 1 gig, to start in metro Detroit in 2016, prices not announced.