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McClatchy-Tribune  07/31/2014 11:59 PM ET
Time Warner Cable adding Internet speed in Kansas City; AT&T promises gigabit in Overland Park [The Kansas City Star :: ]

July 31--Everything may not be up to date in Kansas City -- mass transit lags, the airport needs work, our diet runs on the fatty side -- but the old song increasingly applies to how we go online.

Time Warner Cable announced Thursday it's cranking up Internet speeds to its customers in the market -- without a price increase.

And word broke Thursday that AT&T is on the cusp of a deal to build an ultra-fast network -- much like that introduced by Google Inc. in Kansas City two years ago -- in Overland Park.

Combined, those developments make the Kansas City market one of a handful in the country where home consumers can buy broadband to burn.

"This will be good for Kansas City because more and more people will have faster speeds," said Rick Usher, Kansas City's assistant city manager and point person on broadband issues.

Industry analysts primarily give two reasons why TWC and AT&T want to push up their speeds. First, they could feel threatened by Google Fiber's emergence in the market. Second, their customers increasingly demand fatter broadband to avoid buffering videos and snail-pace downloads.

"They don't want to lose customers to either Google or anybody else who may come into the market in the future," said Larry Gerbrandt, a cable industry analyst for Media Valuation Partners.

For years, the cable and telecom companies dismissed the push from Google and others for dramatically faster uploads and downloads. Customers, they said, had no use for it.

But now, said Gerbrandt and others, the world has changed.

Families want to stream high-definition movies to multiple TVs at a time. People want to work from home, and that can mean shifting massive piles of data from one remote computer to another. And homes now routinely sport multiple electronics constantly snarfing up data from the household Wi-Fi router.

"When somebody's watching video and it's buffering, that's bad for business," Gerbrandt said. "So now you see the companies investing some money."

Google kicked off the trend in 2012 when it began selling its connection speeds of up to a gigabit per second run over fiber optic lines strung directly to homes. Google Fiber construction is ongoing, with a pledge to finish installations in Kansas City and Kansas City, Kan., this year. Work in the suburbs will follow.

AT&T's plan would upgrade its existing network by connecting fiber optic lines -- thin glass cables that represent the highest capacity in the industry -- to homes. It then, like Google, would sell industrial-strength broadband at consumer prices.

AT&T had said it was considering Kansas City as one of the markets where it will sell what it calls Gigapower if it can get the same regulatory treatment as Google. Kansas City officials have said they would do so.

And on Thursday, next week's Overland Park City Council agenda revealed that city has a memorandum of understanding with AT&T for the company to build a fiber optic network there.

The speeds soon to be offered in Kansas City by TWC may fall short of the Google Fiber gigabit or the AT&T service coming to Overland Park, but they would sprint past what's available to consumers in most other American cities.

With the upgrade, called TWC Maxx, Internet customers will see their data speeds quicken, the company said, without a price increase. For instance, a home paying for a 15 megabits-per-second connection would see speeds climb to up to 50 megabits for the same cost. A customer with a 100 megabit subscription would get up to 300 megabits per second at the same price.

Upload speeds -- the ability to post your video to Facebook, to send family picture albums to the Internet's cloud of remote storage -- would not equal download speeds. But they would get two to

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