Denver-AT & T Broadband has taken a major step toward meeting the competition that has suddenly surfaced here.

The MSO's AT & T Cable Services unit announced last week that it has completed the first phase of its $200 million metro-area-network upgrade, making another 112 cable channels available to 11,000 homes in northwest Denver.

Thanks to an accelerated upgrade schedule, the enhanced service was delivered just 110 days after Denver residents voted to renew AT & T Broadband's local franchise.

AT & T Broadband Denver region vice president Joe Stackhouse said: "109 days ago, AT & T's new franchise took effect with the city and county of Denver. Since that time, our engineers, technicians and contractors have worked tirelessly to deliver improved cable services that we promised when our voters approved the franchise. Denver, we're plugging you in."

Stackhouse previously said 30 percent of the metro Denver upgrade had been completed.

"We're currently working in parts of the northern half of the metro area and the southern half," he added. "We're really going at this on multiple fronts. We're working to get all of the metro [area] upgraded as soon as we can, because we've got competition coming."

Under the terms of AT & T Broadband's new franchise with the city, five years will be added to the agreement if the company completes its upgrade by January 2003.

Another incentive is the emergence of competition here, where the City Council is preparing to hold a second reading next month on a cable franchise for WideOpenWest LLC, and where U S West has stepped up its efforts to ink a deal of its own.

Debbie Ortega, Denver city councilwoman for District 9, said she was "excited" that northwest Denver was the first to get the benefits of the upgrade, since residents in the area usually feel like they're the last group to receive such treatment.

The upgrade in northwest Denver will allow AT & T Broadband to activate its AT & T@Home Internet service in the area within the next several weeks, and paves the way for the introduction of local telephone-over-cable service.

"New choices for high-speed Internet connections and local telephone service are on the way to Denver," Stackhouse said.

Enhanced service will be introduced on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis throughout the metro area as AT & T Broadband completes its upgrade over the next three years.

AT & T Broadband spokesman Matt Fleury said digital subscribers living in the upgraded area will see an increase in the amount of programming they receive, including multiplex-premium services, at no additional cost.

Customers in the same area who only take expanded basic will get 14 new channels, with their monthly bills increasing to $31.46 to reflect the price the MSO has set for expanded basic for 2000.

Jeff Baumgartner is senior editor at CED magazine, a sister publication to Multichannel News.