More AT&T customers will soon get access to its fastest broadband option

The company is expanding its fiber-optic-based service, which will let you download an episode of "The Walking Dead" faster than you can say the word "zombie."

AT&T is dangling an early holiday gift to 38 new cities: the promise of wicked-fast Internet service in the coming year.


New cities where AT&T's GigaPower service will be available include Detroit and Los Angeles.

Marguerite Reardon/CNET

The Dallas-based telecommunications giant said Monday it plans to expand its GigaPower service, which uses fiber-optic lines to greatly enhance the broadband speed it can offer. The latest additions bring the service to a total of 56 metro areas. The new rollout will include markets such as Detroit and Los Angeles. It expects to more than double the availability of the service next year.

AT&T's expansion of its fiber network will bring broadband service capable of downloads and uploads at speeds of 1 gigabit per second to even more consumers throughout the country. What does that mean? With those kinds of speeds, customers can download 25 songs in less than a second, a TV show in three seconds or a favorite HD movie in less than 36 seconds.

"The faster speeds offered through AT&T GigaPower keep consumers and small businesses connected as they are accessing more content on more devices," said Brad Bentley, chief marketing officer of AT&T's entertainment group, in a statement.

The expansion comes as Americans rely on the Internet for more content, from simply browsing the Web and answering emails to streaming movies and taking college classes remotely. Despite the new markets, this kind of high-speed service is only available to a fraction of the US' 318 million people.

"There's a long way to go before these speeds reach a significant portion of the United States," said Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research.

The deployment is part of a movement begun by Google, which announced its Google Fiber service in 2010 to drive demand for faster broadband services. The truth is, most people don't need that 1-gigabit connection.

"Gigabit speeds remain more of a marketing gimmick than a must-have for the vast majority of American consumers, with 30 to 40 megabits per second perfectly adequate for most households," said Dawson.

What would make more sense is for AT&T, Google and other broadband providers to roll out faster speeds at more mainstream rates to the majority of their existing service areas, he said. This would actually provide more meaningful competition, he said.

Several of the cities on AT&T's list are also cities in which other competitors are deploying a fiber network. At least four cities on AT&T's list are also communities where Google plans to have a presence, including San Jose and San Diego in California, Louisville and Oklahoma City.

Other cities on AT&T's list are already being served by others as well. For instance, the regional wireless company C Spire is already building a gigabit broadband network in Jackson, Mississippi, which is a new AT&T market. Cleveland, Ohio, which is also on AT&T's list, has already begun building a fiber network capable of delivering 100 Gbps service.

Still, Dawson said that AT&T's experience as one of the largest telecommunications providers in the country gives it an edge over Google and smaller regional players.

"Despite Google's pioneering role in launching gigabit services, it's clear that it's AT&T and other traditional broadband providers that will provide the lion's share of gigabit connections in the US," Dawson said. "And AT&T has already established a significant early lead."

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