Mere months after CEO Brian Roberts promised shareholders and customers that Comcast would juice up its high-speed Internet service, a quiet test of accelerated connection speeds has begun in the MSO’s Knoxville, Tenn., system. The trial run, which began in early July, offers Knoxville HSD customers download speeds of up to 3Mbps, twice the rate of Comcast’s standard high-speed service. Comcast spokesperson Sarah Eder said that the trial will function as a kind of stress test to gauge how the average system might fare under the stress of additional bandwidth demands. The trial is not being advertised. “This is a pure technical trial,” Eder said. “We’re not marketing the service, nor will there be any price change.” Roberts first began making noise about jacking up download speeds at trade shows and investors’ conferences. “I think we should be pushing ourselves, even if it means we have to devote more bandwidth because [HSD] is a platform,” Roberts said at this year’s SCTE show. “We are going up the hockey stick. We should not be satisfied with 1 1/2 Megabits of speed.” Eder confirmed that the speed issue is a key factor in the Knoxville trial. “One of the key hallmarks of HSD is speed,” she said. “Obviously, there are other features that are attractive to customers — always-on connectivity, reliability — but when we’re looking at the full broadband experience, we’ve found that speed is the competitive advantage.” As more Internet users begin to take advantage of bandwidth-hungry applications such as file sharing and networking, MSOs that can offer an additional boost in downloading capacity will have a leg up on the competition, be it dial-up or DSL. But at what cost? The first commercial offering of high-octane HSD service, Comcast Pro, offers download speeds of 3.5 Mbps (384 Kbps upstream), and goes for $95 a month. That’s more than double the speed and price of Comcast’s standard service — 1.5 Mbps down, 256 Kbps up for $45.95 (that price includes the $3 modem lease fee). In contrast, both major telcos have steadily reduced their DSL rates for months. One SBC offer of $35 DSL service has accounted for an uptick of anywhere from 10-20% more customers. Verizon has had similar success with its price cuts. And that isn’t even taking into account plain old vanilla dial-up service, which commands over 50% of the market. None of this is a deterrent to Roberts, who a month after heralding 3Mbps service at SCTE told an audience that he envisioned 100Mbps speeds “in the not-many-many-year future.” “We’re at the beginning of broadband,” Roberts said at this year’s National Show. “Twenty percent may have the service. That means 80% don’t.”

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