Comcast is bringing gigabit Internet service to the Charleston region next month in what's the largest rollout yet of ultra-fast download speeds in the region.
When Comcast fires up the new service, gigabit speeds will be available across most of the area, from the peninsula to the suburbs. The company says it doesn't need to install any new equipment, so faster service will be available wherever it offers Internet access.
Comcast's Xfinity service is the largest provider in the Charleston area, and it had been the last big holdout in offering the speediest service. A gigabit connection is anywhere between 10 and 100 times faster than standard broadband service, and it promises the ability to download big files — like, say, a high-definition movie — in a matter of seconds.
Downloads that fast first emerged in 2013, when Home Telecom wired Summerville's Nexton development to be the first gigabit community in South Carolina.
But in the past two years, telecom companies have set off on an arms race to sell faster service. Moncks Corner-based Home pushed through the suburbs and onto the peninsula, AT&T began laying fiber, and WOW Internet, Cable and Phone upgraded its equipment earlier this year.
Comcast spokesman Alex Horwitz says the company wasn't pressured by the heating competition in Charleston, but steadily undertook upgrades to handle faster speeds. Customers will need a new modem to access gigabit service, but the company doesn't need to install new wires or cables to fire it up.
The service will go live in the last week of April, and it will cost $140 a month for residential service.
"This announcement will mean the fastest speeds to the most homes and businesses in Charleston," Horwitz said. "It will be a completely seamless experience."
The state of the region's Internet service has been cited as a stumbling block for developing a technology-heavy economy, especially on the peninsula where tight quarters and centuries of buried infrastructure makes new installations a challenge.
The Charleston Digital Corridor, a tech-focused economic-development group, has long cited broadband access as a pressing issue to the region's nascent software sector. But director Ernest Andrade says that problem is beginning to smooth over.
"We've had announcement in the past, and the service has been pretty limited," Andrade said. "From a business amenity standpoint, I just see it as a terrific plus."
Comcast declined to say how much of the region its network reaches, but federal data show that by the end of 2016, gigabit speeds were relatively limited.
Fewer than one in 10 homes had access to service that fast in Charleston and Dorchester counties, according to the Federal Communications Commission. In Berkeley County, where Home is headquartered, one in three did.