Qwest Rolls out Faster Broadband

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Residential and small-business customers of Qwest Communications International in 23 U.S. cities will soon have access to broadband speeds up to 20 megabits per second because of the company's fiber-to-the-home rollout, the company said Thursday.

The phased rollout of fiber will bring two new service plans, Connect Quantim with 20M bps service and Connect Titanium with 12 M bps, to 23 cities in the western U.S. The plans will be available this year in Denver; Phoenix; Portland, Oregon; Salt Lake City; Seattle; and Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, among other cities, Qwest said.

The new packages are already available in some neighborhoods in the 23 cities, said Tom McMahon, Qwest's director of corporate communications and government relations. Qwest began rolling out fiber to some neighborhoods last year, and customers in those neighborhoods were able to get speeds up to 7M bps.

The company is ahead of its goal to reach 2 million customers with fiber by the end of the year, McMahon said.

Asked about the popularity of Qwest's fiber-based service, McMahon declined to give specific numbers. Qwest had 2.6 million broadband customers, including fiber and DSL (Digital Subscriber Line), at the end of 2007.

"In the markets where we have already begun extending fiber, we've seen a terrific customer response," McMahon said. "So, we are expecting take rates to stay strong and that we'll continue to take market share. All in all, customers are satisfied and retention has been great."

Qwest's Connect Quantim service will cost US$99.99 when a customer has another Qwest service, such as wireless or phone service. Connect Titanium will cost $46.99 a month when paired with another Qwest service. When customers sign up for two years of service, they are guaranteed that "price for life," McMahon said.

The two other major regional telecom carriers in the U.S., AT&T and Verizon Communications, are also rolling out fiber to the home. The fiber rollouts come as the traditional telecom carriers face competition from cable and other VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) providers, with the cable and telecom providers often selling a package of services, including voice, Internet and cable-like television.

But customers may not necessarily want faster broadband, said Jeff Kagan, an independent telecom analyst. "We are seeing all sorts of super-fast Internet connections for higher monthly fees," he said in an e-mail. "Faster is better, but if you have to pay extra for a faster connection, many customers would prefer a slower connection at a lower cost."

For most Internet use, 1 to 3M bps is sufficient for most people, he added. "There are times when faster is needed, like when you download a movie or other large file, but the vast majority of use is at a much slower speed and customers don't even realize it," Kagan said. "Customers who don't mind paying more can get the fastest speeds, but for customers who watch what they are spending, speeds of 3M bps is more than fast enough for the vast majority of what they do online and costs less. That can save the average customer real [money] every month."

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