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Broadband switch: Comcast merger gives AT&T cable new name, more network investment

A few years back, AT&T Broadband started rolling out its fiber optic network upgrade to bring high-speed Internet service and expanded digital cable television offerings to Wasatch Front customers.

A little more than a year from now, it will finish the job, but under a new name.

Comcast Cable Communications Inc. already has started taking over the upgrade, after Comcast Corp. acquired AT&T Broadband in November.

"For customers, this will mean more reliable signals, enhanced picture quality and advanced services," said Gary Waterfield, area vice president for Comcast, in charge of business in northern Utah.

When finished with the neighborhood-by-neighborhood upgrade, customers should see the improvements, including more channel offerings. But the network upgrade also lays the foundation for the company to provide high-speed Internet, and about 75 percent of subscribers should be able to get HDTV signals by year-end.

Later, Comcast will offer an on-demand service, which allows customers to buy a movie and then have full-VCR functionality — stop, rewind, fast-forward — through a cable TV box.

The improvements will come at a cost. Customers receiving analog signals receive 30 to 40 channels now but will see that grow by 25 channels for $5 more per month.

The upgrade will allow a home to get up to 285 channels, including multiple premium channels such as about a dozen versions of HBO, for a maximum of $86.99.

The upgrade should be finished by the end of the 2004 first quarter, Waterfield said.

"We've committed $100 million to the Utah market in the form of an upgrade. We have approximately 8,000 miles to do, and we've completed about 4,300 of that, much of that done under the AT&T Broadband umbrella over the past two or three years," he said.

Comcast's Salt Lake market has more than 250,000 cable TV customers in more than 111 communities, and the company employs about 800 people. Overall, Philadelphia-based Comcast Cable, a division of Comcast Corp., has 21.4 million customers in 41 states.

The switch for AT&T Broadband to the Comcast name took place officially on Saturday. On Monday, the company marked the change by giving away 20,000 bags of microwave popcorn at locations from Logan to Spanish Fork. The company will contribute 5,000 bags at Wednesday's Utah Jazz game.

The name-change message also will be the subject of billboards — "The more you watch us, the more you'll see" — as well as customer service greetings, promotions on 19 radio stations and advertising in newspapers and television featuring Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong.

The acquisition of AT&T's cable division already has helped Comcast Corp. The nation's largest cable operator last week reported a 2002 fourth-quarter loss but said the AT&T acquisition boosted its revenues, which jumped from $2.86 billion to $4.37 billion year-over-year. Comcast's net loss of $51 million was down from the 2001 fourth-quarter loss of $321 million.

"After 100 days of operating as a combined company, we are more confident than ever of our ability to successfully integrate the AT&T Broadband systems," said Stephen B. Burke, president of Comcast Cable.


Contributing: Associated Press.

E-MAIL: bwallace@desnews.com