The privately funded Comcast project would offer residential Internet service at 8 megabytes per second and business service at speeds as high as 20 megabytes per second in Farmington, Bloomfield and Aztec, Comcast Southwest area spokesman Chris Dunkeson said.
DSL services currently available in San Juan County through Qwest Communications are limited to 1.5 megabytes per second, approximately three times faster than a traditional dial-up Internet connection. Some similar services are provided through Brainstorm Internet, a regional company.
To complete the project, Comcast cable wires running along community power lines and other infrastructure electronics must be replaced and upgraded to a fiberoptic wire and connected to a service hub in Albuquerque. Once completed, the cable lines will be the most advanced in New Mexico.
Similar high-speed Internet services already are available in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Las Cruces and Silver City through Comcast.
The upgrade also will provide more than 60 high-definition television channels and on-demand video services, the first cable alternative to satellite dish programming services.
The project, which will begin construction the first week of May, is anticipated to be completed in November, with full services set to be made available before the end of the year.
"This is our chance to make a long-term investment in the Farmington community," Dunkeson said. "... We believe the demand is here."
The price tag of the seven-month project is not confirmed, but the upgrade expense will exceed $5 million, the company spokesman said.
Residential Internet service is expected to cost $43 per month with no contract period; the HD service upgrade likely would cost an additional $7 to already-billed cable fees.
Noting weekly calls requesting the improved services from Farmington area customers, Comcast officials said local demand was a driving factor in bringing the multi-million dollar project to fruition.
In addition to improved services, the project will increase a flow of revenue in the local economy and provide employment opportunities, Farmington Mayor Bill Standley said of the upgrade, which the city government has promised to support after meeting with company officials Monday.
The project will require more than 125 contract workers, 25 of which are expected to be hired from the area.
"It couldn't happen at a better time. It's going to bring money into the community and (local) businesses," Standley said. "It's going to help that business infrastructure, as well as residential infrastructure, to provide better services they've been asking, and waiting, for."
A consequence of the cable system upgrade will be temporary disruption of services for current Comcast subscribers in neighborhoods where work actively is being completed, company officials said.
To limit the interruptions, Comcast intends to advertise weekly notices of where work will be completed in addition to posting door hangers in affected areas alerting to the pending work, said Mark Johnson, Comcast operations manager in Farmington.
When completed, the Comcast upgrade will provide much-needed business competition in a market where Qwest practically has had a monopoly on high-speed Internet, Farmington Chamber of Commerce President Dorothy Nobis said.
"It will benefit both companies and it certainly will benefit the business community," Nobis said. "We need, and deserve, a choice."
Nobis described the available Internet connectivity as an inconvenience with which most local businesses are unhappy.
"In the high technologies that most businesses operate in today, it's really critical for most of us," she said of increased Internet speeds.
The Farmington mayor said he hoped the Comcast investment would encourage Qwest to reinvest in the services made available in the Four Corners area to stay competitive.
"I think it's good that competition is coming to town," Standley said.
A spokesman with Qwest said the company is working on construction of a new fiberoptic line that could provide Internet services of up to 20 megabytes per second to Farmington customers.
"That's something we've been working on bringing to that area, and we've made a substantial effort in time and resources to be able to bring speeds of 20 megabytes to the Farmington area," said Qwest regional spokesman Mark Molzen.
The Qwest project has been under development for approximately 18 months. However it's unknown when the faster Internet services would be made available in Farmington, Molzen said.
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