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Posted: March 4, 2011 12:00 a.m.

AT&T expanding combined television Internet service

AT&T is expanding its Internet, home phone and TV U-verse service in Covington, in an effort to compete with cable providers Comcast and Charter Communications.

The U-verse television service is delivered through Internet-based systems, not by satellite signals or traditional cable television cables.

Sergio Goldenberg, a doctorate student at Georgia Tech University and manager of its interactive television lab, said using the technology of the Internet to transport information is the future. For now, the difference between technologies for the user is negligible, because companies are not yet producing content that takes advantage of the technology.

Dawn S. Benton, AT&T’s director of corporate communications, said the Internet protocol service allows AT&T to integrate its Internet and TV more seamlessly, allowing for improved interactive television, as well as compatibility with the Microsoft X-Box 360. The service’s digital video recorder was also better than the competition, she said.

Goldenberg said that the differences in features (number of channels, DVR quality and high-definition programming) between AT&T, Charter, Comcast and other providers are not vast.

"If companies like HBO do not want to provide innovative service because they’re only possible in IPTV, they will never have services differentiated," Goldenberg said. "Of course, (providing content) for both is easier than just doing it for one (company)."

Goldenberg said that some smaller content providers are producing unique services for AT&T and others, but that’s still the exception.

Benton said that AT&T U-verse was the fastest-growing TV provider in the county through the first three quarters of 2010.

"There’s not a cable provider that matches the cross-platform experience AT&T is delivering today. We’re mobilizing everything about the TV experience. Customers can enjoy hit TV shows at home and on the go with U-verse Mobile and U-verse Online. Additionally, with U-verse TV on Xbox 360, customers can enjoy virtually the same U-verse TV experience and receive chat and game invitations from friends through Xbox Live while watching live TV," Benton said in an e-mail.

The service allows users to schedule DVR recordings from any computer or phone with Internet access. AT&T is also developing applications for its services, including one that allows users to customize weather, sports, stock and traffic information.

Pricing remains the main driver for consumers, and Goldenberg said that cable companies tend to have inexpensive, basic packages, while AT&T and others can sometimes provide better value than competitors as price range rises.

While AT&Ts Internet approach may have an advantage in the long run, Goldenberg said the technology does have a limit in how far it can reach. As a result, Internet services are not generally suited to rural areas, because the company has to build more infrastructure than a cable company would. On the other side, cable and satellite providers tend to have more problems with service related to weather interruptions.

U-verse service was introduced into Covington in early 2009.

A Charter Communications spokesman did not reply to an e-mail seeking comment.

To find out whether U-verse is available for your home or office visit http://www.att.com/u-verse and enter your address.

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