AT&T promises IPTV to low-income residents

CEO promises to serve 5.5 million low-income homes as part of broadband IPTV services over new network.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
2 min read
AT&T said it will serve 5.5 million low-income households as part of its initial deployment of Internet-based TV services.

Speaking at the Detroit Economic Club on Monday, AT&T Chief Executive Edward Whitacre said the company plans to spend $4.6 billion through 2008 on Project Lightspeed. Project Lightspeed is a new network AT&T is building to further extend fiber optic cabling into neighborhoods to allow more bandwidth to carry services such as IPTV. Whitacre said that within the next three years the network will reach 19 million homes, of which 5.5 million will be low income.

AT&T and Verizon are upgrading their networks to offer TV service to compete directly with cable companies, which have already begun offering phone service. To speed up their deployments, AT&T and Verizon have been lobbying local, state and federal lawmakers to change franchise laws to let them enter new markets more quickly. But cable operators have fought back by accusing the phone giants of targeting wealthier neighborhoods as they upgrade networks, leaving poorer neighborhoods without access to new services.

AT&T's promise to address low-income communities should help quell these accusations, the company hopes.

"The company is affirming (its) commitment to assure the public that all income levels--including low income households--have early access as this cutting-edge technology is deployed," AT&T said in a press release.

While Verizon is offering TV service to communities in several states, including Florida, Texas, Massachusetts and Virginia, AT&T is just starting to roll out its IPTV service. So far, only a few neighborhoods in San Antonio, Texas, can get the service. A wider deployment is planned for later this year.

Whitacre also said AT&T announced initiatives that will help rural customers to access high-speed services. In areas where its DSL network and Project Lightspeed will not reach, Whitacre announced, AT&T will resell satellite broadband from WildBlue Communications in some regions starting in June.

WildBlue's service is much more expensive than AT&T's DSL service. It starts at about $50 a month for a download speed of 512 kilobits per second, and for 1.5Mbps downloads, the price is $80 a month. By contrast, AT&T offers a promotional price on its 1.5Mbps service of $12.99 for the first year of service.

Whitacre also said AT&T is testing wireless technology that could help rural customers get high-speed Internet access. Specifically, AT&T plans to deploy trials of fixed WiMax technology in Texas and Nevada. BellSouth, which will soon be acquired by AT&T, is already using WiMax in parts of Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi.

WiMax is a radio frequency technology that promises to deliver two-way Internet access at speeds of up to 75Mbps. Its backers claim WiMax can transmit data up to 30 miles between broadcast towers and can blanket areas of more than a mile in radius.