CenturyLink, Minnesota's largest telephone company, is testing a new high-speed Internet service in Omaha that could eventually find its way to the Twin Cities.
The test will offer a group of 48,000 mostly residential customers with Internet download speeds of nearly 1 billion bits per second, or 1 gigabit. That's 25 times faster than CenturyLink's fastest consumer download speed in the Twin Cities, and 10 times faster than Comcast's highest speed here.
The CenturyLink test in Nebraska follows Google's much-publicized installation of 1-gigabit-per-second Internet service in Kansas City, and its recent announcement that the service will also be offered in Austin, Texas, and Provo, Utah. CenturyLink offers much slower Internet service in Provo.
While 1-gigabit download speeds aren't needed by most Internet customers today, industry trends suggest that steadily increasing use of high-definition video streaming and movie downloads will make faster speeds necessary. CenturyLink said its Omaha test customers would be able to download high-definition movies in seconds, and access online services almost instantly.
"We hope to learn how the technology will perform, what appetite consumers have for this much bandwidth and how customers will use it," Duane Ring Jr., Minneapolis-based president of the Midwest region of CenturyLink, said in an interview Thursday.
"We're not doing it because of Google," Ring said. "We're doing it because it's an interesting technology service that we think customers will be interested in."
Omaha customers in the test will pay $149.95 for the high-speed Internet service, or $79.95 a month if a customer also subscribes to CenturyLink's phone and video services, the company said. The test network is partly finished and will be completed by October.
The Omaha network will derive its speed from linking fiber-optic cable directly to homes. In the Twin Cities, CenturyLink's slower DSL Internet service uses a combination of copper telephone wire and fiber-optic cables.
It's "difficult to say" how soon the new high-speed Internet technology could be introduced in the Twin Cities, Ring said.
One of CenturyLink's criteria in deciding where to offer the high-speed Internet service will be whether a particular state regulates competing cable TV and telephone Internet services in the same way, Ring said. Historically, the two have been governed by a different set of rules in most states, including Minnesota. Cable companies are regulated by city franchise agreements, and telephone companies are regulated by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.
CenturyLink's decision to test the 1-gigabit service in Omaha grew out of a two-year planning period at Louisiana-based CenturyLink, Ring said. The company had already installed a slightly different fiber network there to provide video and Internet services, and it was feasible to upgrade that network for the 1-gigabit service, he said.