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AT&T announces residential fiber internet for Huntsville, but fiber advocates & city officials say it’s just the beginning

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - We've covered the push for fiber internet for years now.

Launch Fiber founder Tyler England has been there since the beginning, "In 2014, I started launch fiber at the beginning of the year, and the plan was to bring fiber internet to Huntsville within five years. That was our target goal we've always set from the very beginning."

Now AT&T says it will provide gigabit internet to the home.

England says, "Really, it's progress. Two years ago we had nothing. Now we've got a major commercial company coming in to decide they want to roll out fiber to businesses and homes."

There's no monthly price in the AT&T release, but in other markets, it costs $110 a month.

That's about $40 more than Chattanooga's EPB or Google Fiber.

But that cost doesn't surprise England, given the physical size of Huntsville, "It costs them so much more to roll out all the way down the Parkway, coming 565, because our main fiber line comes from I-65."

The only benchmark we know time-wise is the end of 2016, but, England adds, "The roll-out plan is a little slow, but I think that's just to be conservative. I have gone back and looked at their roll-outs in other cities, and they're usually on-schedule or ahead of schedule."

England doesn't see it as the end of the fiber discussion in Huntsville; not by a long shot, "What I see is a door opening. Once one company comes in, all the other companies that can provide that kind of service, they really open their eyes and say 'whoa.' If they think this is a viable market, then we can also think it's a viable market."

The expansion puts AT&T gigabit fiber at 56-cities served. For context, Huntsville isn't even in the hundred largest cities in America, population-wise.

There is also excitement among city officials about the AT&T announcement, for a number of reasons.

Huntsville Business Relations Officer Harrison Diamond says, "I think this is exactly what we wanted. We wanted to get on the radar of a lot of the major internet service providers, and I think that AT&T's announcement is doing just that. So we're very happy to have AT&T expanding their gig power service to our market."

But there's also an expectation that having fiber-to-the-home from one carrier could start the ball rolling with others.

"They're all watching each other to see who makes the first move," Diamond adds, "So I think this is good for the community."

The city isn't done yet either. Diamond assures, "We're looking very closely with the utilities to look at a model from a public-private partnership."

Now that usually perks up the ears of people who want Huntsville to emulate Chattanooga, but Diamond states, "We still do not want the Chattanooga model. We don't like that idea. It's great for Chattanooga, but at the end of the day, we don't want to be in the business of being your cable company or your internet company. We just don't want that."

So the city instead hashes out the numbers of working with a private company to ensure affordable access.

Diamond lays it out, "We're continuing to work at that, look at the engineering, look at the financing, and how we can actually make the business case work."

So while Huntsville will get fiber-to-the-home if AT&T follows through with its promises, that does not mean the city has stopped its work looking for more fiber solutions.

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