Comcast boosts Internet speeds, to launch streaming service

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Comcast is boosting Chicago-area residential Internet speeds and launching Gigabit Pro in Illinois. | AP file photo

Comcast is increasing available download speeds for its Chicago-area residential customers and is launching its Gigabit Pro service in Illinois. The cable operator also announced plans for a streaming video service.

Comcast announced Monday it is increasing residential download speed by 50 percent to 75 megabits per second at no additional charge for about half of its customers in the Chicago area. The country’s largest cable company also is adding a new “Extreme 150” service tier.

“Increasing Internet speeds ensures that we’ll continue to meet our customers’ evolving needs,” said John Crowley, Comcast’s regional senior vice president. “Speed increases, along with the addition of Wi-Fi hotspots customers can access on the go throughout the greater Chicago region and in locations across the country, add significant value to our Internet service.”

The number of Xfintiy Wi-Fi hotspots in the region is approaching 900,000 and has surpassed 8 million nationwide.

Comcast also said it is rolling out its professional-grade residential fiber-optic Gigabit Pro service in Illinois, Northwest Indiana and Southwest Michigan. The new service offers upload and download speeds of 2 gigabits per second.

The cable operator also announced its own online video alternative as people spend fewer hours watching live TV and more time using tablets and phones for entertainment.

The new service, called Stream, will be available to Comcast Internet customers and cost $15 a month. It will include only broadcast networks like FOX and NBC in addition to HBO, but no cable channels like AMC or TNT.

Anyone can watch broadcast networks for free on a TV with an antenna, which costs about $20 and up. And HBO already sells a stand-alone streaming service for $15 a month.

Comcast’s service follows the launch earlier this year of Dish Network’s nationwide Internet TV service, Sling TV, which sells for $20 a month and includes cable channels like ESPN, AMC and Food Network. You can also add on HBO. A slew of Internet TV options have come in the past year as cable and TV companies think younger customers prefer to watch TV online, without paying for a full bundle that can easily top $70 a month.

Comcast Corp. said Monday it will launch the service in Boston at the end of the summer, followed by Chicago and Seattle. It plans to make it available to all its Internet service customers by early 2016.

The service comes with limitations. You can watch live TV through Stream at home but there are rights restrictions for a lot of live content if you want to watch on your phone outside your home network.

It will work on computers, tablets and phones but won’t work directly on TVs. Instead, users can log in to HBO’s app and other channel apps through TV-connected gadgets like an Apple TV or Roku, for example.

Stream does come with a DVR service that can store 20 hours of video.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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