Detroit area Internet competition moves to hyper speed

Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News

The high-speed Internet battle is heating up in Metro Detroit, which has lagged behind other metropolitan areas when it comes to fast service.


For the first time, downtown Detroit is one of the leaders in ultra-fast Internet. Two Michigan startups already have launched fiber-optic services in parts of downtown that are 1,000 times faster than the average connection in the area.

And Comcast plans later this year to roll out a similar service to virtually every household in its coverage area in Metro Detroit. The region will be among the first in the nation to get the service by Comcast’s Xfinity.

In November, Detroit-based Rocket Fiber launched its fiber-optic Internet service, initially targeting the central business district downtown, Midtown and Corktown. At this point, it is available only in certain parts of downtown. Residential customers can choose plans of between 1 gigabits and 10 gigabits of data per second. Businesses can order 100-gigabit service.

The average Internet services in Metro Detroit household delivers 12.7 megabits of information per second (it takes 1,000 megabits to equal 1 gigabit), according to a study by Akamai Technologies, a Massachusetts technology infrastructure company.

Rocket Fiber CEO Marc Hudson said, “We are part of the movement to make Detroit a tech hub. We want it to be a game-changer.” Fiber-optic cable is made from glass or plastic, and uses light instead of electricity to transmit data.

Rocket Fiber wasn’t the first to offer 1-gigabit service downtown. In October, Lansing-based LightSpeed Communications began offering 1-gig service to residents of Detroit Savings Bank Lofts in Capitol Park.

High-speed Internet service isn’t just about convenience, it’s also about keeping the region economically competitive.

More and more U.S. cities are lining up to get their own 1-gigabit service, often in the form of Google Fiber, which the Silicon Valley search engine giant first rolled out in Kansas City. Google Fiber is now being offered in four U.S. cities. It could be expanded to another dozen cities soon — but Detroit isn’t one of them.

Both Rocket Fiber and LightSpeed aim to soon expand service to parts of greater downtown, the 7.2-square-mile area where the number of residents and businesses are steadily growing.

Kayla Shepard and Youness Mawry work at the newly opened Xfinity store in Detroit. Comcast is set to boost its Internet speed offerings.

By the time that happens, Comcast’s Xfinity already will have rolled out a service on its existing hybrid fiber/coaxial network that can provide gigabit speeds to virtually every household in its coverage area in Metro Detroit.

“When we launch, it will not just be parts of downtown and Midtown, but also into the neighborhoods where most people live,” said Michelle Gilbert, vice president of public relations for the Comcast’s Midwest region. The new network technology will, for the first time, make it possible for Xfinity and Comcast Business Internet customers to receive gigabit speeds over the communications lines that most customers already have in their homes and offices.

Comcast’s fiber/coaxial network already is in place. But it will likely require customers to get a new cable modem and router.

Atlanta and Nashville will get the new Xfinity service early this year. Detroit, Chicago and Miami will get it in the second half of 2016.

Last month, Comcast opened its first Xfinity retail store inside Detroit’s city limits, at 3907 Woodward. The Midtown store features flat-screen TVs and a seating area so visitors can get hands-on demonstrations of Xfinity’s offerings. The store is recognition that the downtown is as attractive of a business proposition as the suburbs, Comcast officials said.

“The growth in Detroit post-bankruptcy has been phenomenal,” Comcast’s Gilbert said.

Rocket Fiber welcomes competition, Hudson said. “It’s exciting for us. This is an area that traditionally didn’t see a lot of investment in service. Knowing that (Comcast) will be making a big investment for faster Internet and hopefully better customer service — we welcome it,” Hudson said.

Rocket Fiber offers 1-gig service to residences for $70 a month; 10-gig service is $299 a month. Pricing for businesses is based on custom rates. LightSpeed charges $65 per month.

Comcast hasn’t announced rates for its upcoming service. But in Atlanta, one of the markets where the new service is being offered, promotional price is $70 a month.

Twitter: LouisAguilar_DN