AT&T says it will invest more than $50 million in its Georgia wireless network this year to improve service. That includes adding nine new cell sites in the Columbus area.
Most of the new equipment will be installed in the fourth quarter of this year, said Dawn Benton, spokeswoman for AT&T's Georgia/Alabama region, which is headquartered in Atlanta. She had no specific date on when the upgrade would be completed.
"Part of the reason for this is to strengthen what we call the core of the city, areas around the city where our customers are using their service, increasing the density and the strength of the coverage," Benton said. "It's also preparing for the influx of the military growth, the people coming into the area over the next 12 to 18 months."
Fort Benning and Columbus are expected to pick up more than 30,000 residents by the year 2011 as the U.S. Army's infantry and armor schools combine. The post also looks to gain other Army duties and missions.
Areas of the community that will receive the new AT&T equipment include:
Columbus is only a portion of the new cell sites going up statewide, Benton said. Another 41 sites will be added from north Georgia to the coastal region of the state.
Over the last three years, the company invested more than $575 million in Georgia, adding 130 cell sites, she said. That included deploying wireless broadband service in Atlanta, which allows subscribers to use cellular signals on their laptops for high-speed Internet access.
Benton said she doesn't know when AT&T will offer broadband access in other areas of the state, including Columbus.
"It's something we do on a rolling market-by-market basis," she said.
Earlier this year, AT&T said it plans to pump $500 million into fiber network upgrades over several years. The aim is to boost broadband deployment and offer new Internet-based technologies.
"We're off to a great start already, and the future promises to be very exciting for Georgia," Cliff Minor, AT&T’s vice president and general manager for wireless operations in Georgia, said in a statement.
AT&T competitor Verizon Wireless is the only cellular company offering high-speed access in Columbus. The service debuted locally last fall.
The Columbus upgrades came from "customer feedback," Benton said, including local business clients. This looks to be the biggest investment in the city in a while, she said.
"This is definitely significant for the Columbus area," she said.
Founded in 1983 as Southwestern Bell Corp., AT&T's purchase of BellSouth was approved by the Federal Communications Commission in December 2006. The deal combined ownership of Cingular Wireless, initially a joint venture between AT&T and BellSouth.
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