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Cox hoists broadband speed limits

Hike in basic download rate to 4mbps shows the cable industry's sticking to speed upgrades to take on DSL rivals.

Cox Communications on Tuesday raised download speeds for its broadband customers, a sign that cable companies are sticking to bandwidth upgrades to counter their Baby Bell rivals.

The Atlanta-based cable giant boosted download speeds for basic high-speed Internet service to 4 megabits per second, compared with the 3mbps it previously promised. It also increased upstream bandwidth to 512 kilobits per second from 256kbps.

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The price for the service will remain at $39.95 a month when bundled with Cox's video or phone products, the company said.

"In this highly competitive marketplace, it's important for us to constantly look for ways to evolve our services to best meet the needs of consumers," Steve Gorman, Cox's vice president of product management and marketing, said in a statement.

The company also gave a speed boost to its high-end access tier, upping downloads to 5mbps. The "premier" broadband costs $54.95 a month, if bundled with other Cox services. In addition, the "value" tier now offers 256kbps both upstream and downstream, increased from 128kbps, for $24.95 a month. Value customers do not have to subscribe to video or phone service to get the broadband access.

Cox's move illustrates a trend among the cable industry's biggest players to offer greater speeds without changing prices. The trend began last fall when Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cablevision joined Cox in raising basic download limits to 3mbps from 2mbps.

Last year's speed hikes were significant, given the growing competition between the cable and telephone industries for U.S. households upgrading to broadband. Cable has long dominated the market for home broadband, prompting telephone carriers to make their own moves to woo customers.

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Baby Bells such as Verizon Communications and SBC Communications have turned to price discounts to fuel subscriber additions. For example, SBC, the nation's largest provider of DSL broadband, offers up to 1.5mbps of download speed for $26.95 a month. On Monday, SBC increased its upload speed for no extra charge.

These discounts seem to be working. Verizon and SBC both reported greater net DSL additions last quarter than in the same period last year. Comcast and Time Warner Cable, on the other hand, showed mild year-over-year declines, according to their own quarterly reports.