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Comcast to spend $400M on Bay Area upgrade

Tue, 02/11/2003 - 7:00pm
Todd Wallack

Copyright 2003 The Chronicle Publishing Co.

The San Francisco Chronicle...02/12/2003

Just months after taking over AT&T Broadband, Comcast Corp. executives have vowed to invest more than $400 million over the next two years in upgrading the Bay Area's aging cable television lines to carry more channels and offer high-speed Internet service throughout the region.

"It's concrete evidence of Comcast's commitment to the San Francisco Bay Area," said company spokesman Andrew Johnson.

In addition, AT&T, the area's dominant cable TV provider, plans to add four new local call centers and expand another in an effort to upgrade customer service. AT&T Broadband, ranked last in customer service among major cable TV providers by Innovista Research of Boston, currently routes many customer calls to outside firms in Idaho and Arizona.

AT&T Broadband became a unit of Philadelphia's Comcast three months ago as part of a $50 billion deal. Although it was technically a merger, Comcast chief executive Brian Roberts is running the combined operation and appears to be wasting little time putting his stamp on it. AT&T Broadband plans to start using the Comcast name later this week.

Meanwhile, AT&T Broadband, which has wired 2.6 million Bay Area homes for cable TV, has already upgraded the equipment for nearly half of its customer base.

But AT&T has repeatedly come under fire for taking too long to upgrade the rest of area homes. It currently offers Internet service in only a handful of neighborhoods in the area's three largest cities, Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose. And by its own admission, AT&T is a year behind schedule upgrading the lines in San Francisco.

Now, despite plans by many corporations to curtail investment to boost profits in a rough economy, Comcast executives have vowed to substantially finish the upgrades by the end of 2004 — a move that could help it head off growing competition from satellite TV providers DirecTV and Dish Network.

In addition to more channels and Internet service, the upgrades will allow Comcast to provide local telephone service in more neighborhoods.

Eventually, the upgrades could also pave the way for Comcast to provide other more advanced services, like high-definition television and video-on-demand, where customers could order movies they want to see around the clock. Separately, Comcast plans to hire roughly 1,400 people at five Bay Area call centers during the next two years.

A source familiar with the plans said Comcast plans to add 100 employees in its Livermore call center, build a new one in Concord and create three more local call centers during the next two years.

Offsetting some of the hires, AT&T Broadband announced plans last month to eliminate 450 local jobs, or just over 10 percent of its area workforce.

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