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Broadband in Suburbia

Access to High-Speed Internet Is Latest Selling Point In Washington Area Upscale Housing Developments

By Christopher Stern
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 26, 2004; Page E01

In many ways, Brambleton looks like any of the new housing developments that have popped up near Dulles Airport in the past several years. Except coursing under its crisp green lawns and treeless streets is a fiber-optic network that supplies some 600 homes with Internet access at speeds once reserved for the largest corporations.

For Ashley D. Campolattaro, 33, a stay-at-home mom, the super-fast connection has become more important than her television or telephone. She uses it to schedule play dates for her children and dinners with neighbors and to check references for babysitters. The Internet has become a lifeline for Campolattaro, particularly on days when caring for her two young sons leaves her feeling isolated from the grown-up world.

Zakir Khan, with his wife, Qudsia, in their kitchen, was attracted by Brambleton's robust Internet offering. (James A. Parcell -- The Washington Post)

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There is a laptop in her kitchen and another computer in the den. There isn't much time to sit for extended periods, but she can always steal a few seconds to click at the keyboard.

"I can check my e-mail 100 times a day," Campolattaro said.

Just eight years ago, broadband was the domain of the workplace. Now, 30 percent of U.S. homes have high-speed access to the Internet and it's common to find wireless connections everywhere from highway truck stops to luxury hotels.

Brambleton's developer has added wireless networks at the community pool and other access points near outdoor benches. "I don't know how they are going to see their computer screens in the sun," said Brambleton spokeswoman Amanda Jensen, but she added that the company is only responding to demand. There are plans to ramp up the network's speed, even though as recently as three years ago it was viewed as more than enough for residential use.

The Internet service is included in Campolattaro's homeowner association fees of approximately $230 a month. For that price, she also receives cable television service and covers her share of community lawn care and road maintenance.

Verizon Communications Inc. built Brambleton's network as a market test for new technologies. The project offers a glimpse of what the telecommunications giant hopes to do around the country. Verizon, the nation's largest telephone company, announced last week that it will spend close to $3 billion to establish fiber-optic networks in six states that could give 3 million homes the same level of Internet service that Campolattaro enjoys. Much of the new construction is focused on Washington's suburbs, including Falls Church and Leesburg in Northern Virginia and parts of Montgomery County in Maryland.

The announcement comes as the cable television industry has begun to beef up its lines, offering in some cases its own competing package of telephone, television and Internet service.

Verizon officials say their network may fundamentally change the way people think not only about the Internet but also about television and telephone service. Instead of changing channels and getting stuck with whatever is on, viewers in the future may search for shows in the same way they find Web sites. Rather than buying programming packages, television in the future may be available on an a la carte basis, said Robert Ingalls, president of Verizon Retail Markets. Brambleton's cable TV service is provided by a third party that transmits channels such as ESPN, MTV and C-SPAN over Verizon's network. Verizon has not revealed details about its future television offerings.

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