Copyright 2006 Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Copyright 2006 San Antonio Express-News (Texas) 
San Antonio Express-News (Texas)
February 9, 2006, Thursday
By Sanford Nowlin
From Lexis Nexis

Time Warner Cable is pumping some serious speed into new, high-end apartment developments.

San Antonio's largest cable provider will boost the signal of its Road Runner Internet service to up to 30 Mbps in some apartment properties -- six times faster than the 5 Mbps, or millions of bits per second, that it offers with its regular Road Runner service. And 30 Mbps is hundreds of times faster than dial-up Internet service.

The move is part of the company's effort to stave off growing competition from phone companies including AT&T Inc.

It also gives developers such as Lynd Co. -- the first company here to equip one of its apartment properties with Time Warner's Xtreme broadband -- another marketing hook to lure residents.

"When you do a development like this, it's going to be around for a while," said Jeff Henry, a Time Warner marketing vice president. "This is kind of a way of future (-proofing) the development. We can do this in any apartment community where it makes sense, where there would be a demand for it."

Time Warner will market 10 Mbps service to Xtreme users for $ 69.95 a month, 15 Mbps service for $ 129.95 a month, and its 30 Mbps service for $ 199.95. Its normal Road Runner service sells for $ 44.95 a month.

The Ranch at Shavano Park -- an upscale, 370-unit complex being built north of Loop 1604 -- will be the first property to offer Xtreme.

Super-fast Internet service is another upscale amenity the complex can offer, along with its resort-style pools and a state-of-the-art theater, said David Lynd, Lynd Co.'s chief operating officer. Rents at The Ranch range up to $ 1,500 a month.

"We think it's going to become a destination location for people who desire this kind of speed," said Lynd, whose company has 9,000 rental units in San Antonio. "There are people out there who will want the very fastest speeds available." Lynd said he plans to bring Xtreme to other apartments his company develops, and Time Warner officials are in talks to provide the service to other owners.

Time Warner delivers its super-speedy Internet service via a fiber optic line it runs directly to an apartment complex. It then locates networking hardware on the premises to further boost the speed.

Because the residences in an apartment complex are close together, the company can offer faster speeds than those it delivers to housing developments. Broadband speeds tend to drop the further the computer user is from network equipment.

Time Warner will introduce faster speeds to home users in the second half of the year, Henry said. However, he said it would not be able to offer speeds faster than 10 Mbps -- at least not in the near term.

Phone and cable companies are locked in a high-stakes battle to provide packages of phone, high-speed Internet service and video programming to consumers. As customers more frequently use their Internet connections for quick downloading of video and music files, blazing speeds may become important, analysts said.

"Right now most consumers are satisfied with regular broadband," Atlanta-based telecom analyst Jeff Kagan said. "That's fine for what they use the Internet for. But it's not going to be that way forever. At some point, consumers will be doing things like downloading whole movies."

For its part, San Antonio-based AT&T said most customers are happy with its standard 1.5 Mbps service. But the company is bringing fiber lines into new housing developments in case more consumers want blazing speeds, spokesman Andy Shaw said.

Although Xtreme's monthly rates of up to $200 likely put the service out of most consumers' price range, Henry said people with home offices, executives looking to connect to their corporate networks and die-hard online gamers will be interested. Even so, it remains to be seen just how many are willing to pay for the fastest -- and most pricey -- service tier.

"Part of the reason we're doing this is to test and see what the market is for these speeds," Henry said.