A long-awaited project to bring high-speed Internet to Tuolumne County is nearing completion following a multi million dollar investment in fiber-optic cables.

Comcast today announced plans to launch its state of the art television, Internet and phone services beginning on Dec. 6. The new services are based on a 138,000-mile network of fiber-optic cables that promise to deliver data transfer speeds many times faster that what is currently available.

The Philadelphia-based company has invested more than $3 million to

build the data line over the past year, according to Andrew Johnson,

Comcast vice president of communications.

"We really believe the rural markets present a major opportunity," he said.

The company began building the new fiber optic line in May in parts

of western Tuolumne County. Johnson said customers who have access to

Comcast's basic Internet service now will be able to upgrade to the

high-speed line as soon as it becomes operational, but the cables

likely won't be extended to areas that don't already have Comcast


Towns including Sonora, Jamestown, Twain Harte, Columbia and Mi-Wuk

Village will have access to the fiber-optic lines and Comcast's Xfinity

brand of services.

Rates for residential customers vary widely depending on the types

of services or channels they are interested in. Johnson said customers

can sign a two-year contract for "Triple Play" and lump their cable TV,

Internet and phone service together. The price for that plan is $99 a

month for the first year and after that, the price per month rises to


In addition, high-definition channels will be available to Tuolumne

County customers for the first time. The HD plan is similar to the

standard TV plan, but costs about $20 more per month.

"A lot of people have invested in flat panel HD TVs and haven't been able to use HD before now," Johnson said.

Internet-only plans range in price from roughly $40 per month for

processing speeds of 15 megabytes per second, to $105 per month for

speeds of up to 105 megabytes per second.

There are low speed tiers for people who only need Internet service

to check e-mail, but bandwidths climb precipitously for plans that

target hard-core online gamers or web users who frequently download

movies, Johnson said.

For example, the cheapest plan will enable users to download a

1,500 megabyte movie in about 16 minutes, while the people who pay for

the premium "Extreme 105" plan will complete the same task in less than

two minutes.

Johnson said rates for businesses will vary depending on what data

speeds they require, but that in nearly all cases they will get faster

speeds for 30 percent to 40 percent less money.

With the updated lines, customers will have access to a wide

variety of apps both iPhone and Android platforms. People will be able

to see TV schedules or set recordings from their smart phones or iPads

as well. Other features, like HD Skype and remote home security

systems, will become available sometime next year, he said.

Johnson said the biggest challenge will be educating the public

about the numerous changes that will soon take place in Tuolumne

County's telecommunications network.

"It's going to be like trying to take a drink from a fire hose," he said.

The high-speed data lines work along a trunk and branch system that

uses fiber optic cables to transmit vast amounts of data over long

distances, while traditional coaxial cables connect the main line to


Comcast is the largest cable TV and Internet provider in the

country and has more than 22 million customers nationwide, with 2.2

million in Northern California.

Contact Ryan Campbell at rcampbell@uniondemocrat.com or 588-4526.