Peninsula telecommunications service war heats up 

Competition between local cable television, Internet and telephone providers will heat up this summer, and that could bring better service, discounted packages and more features to local customers.

Nine Peninsula cities will benefit from increased competition this year when Astound Broadband, which currently serves 23,500 television customers, 13,000 phone customers and 19,000 high-speed data users in Contra Costa County, takes over the network built by the Residential Communications Network Corporation.

In August, RCN Corporation announced that it was selling its Peninsula network of approximately 18,000 customers to Kirkland, Washington-based Astound, in an effort to focus their energy on East Coast markets. On Tuesday, the San Mateo City Council will vote to approve franchise transfer from RCN to Astound.

San Mateo County Telecommunications Authority Chairman Brian Moura said Astound has a head start in establishing themselves because RCN has already installed fiber optic cables and built a network in the area.

"We think that Astound has the financial capabilities to run the system, and given their local track record, they’re going to do a very good job," Moura said.

As the two companies fight for customers, Moura said he expects residents to see more high-definition channels, better local programming and more affordable product packages. A third competitor, AT&T’s U-Verse, television and Internet service will spread through the Bay Area after test runs in San Ramon, Danville, Cupertino and Saratoga.

Astound currently offers similar packages to Comcast’s Triple Play, for telephone, high-speed Internet and cable service. Astound’s basic package is only $20 monthly for each of the three services, where Comcast’s standard is $33.

Although Astound offers cheaper basic packages, President Craig Heiting says the battle for customers will not be waged through service prices, but through the cost of combination packages and in features like faster Internet speeds and more local television channels.

Not to be outdone, Comcast announced on Dec. 27 that the next 18 months would see more than $80 million in improvement to the local network to bring faster Internet service to eight Bay Area cities.

San Mateo Mayor Jack Matthews said he is glad to see more choices for residents, but the council will need to be mindful of the wires, transmitters and other equipment to be installed around town if more service providers move into the area.

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