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Fiber Internet providers race to get into new Charlotte apartments

Sky House held its grand opening gathering and the groundbreaking for SkyHouse II last October. The property will have Gigapower Internet access from AT&T, as super-fast Internet becomes an increasingly important amenity for apartment developers.

Forget saltwater pools, bocce ball courts and dog washes: The biggest amenity at new apartments in Charlotte might just be ultrahigh-speed Internet.

As AT&T, Google and Time Warner Cable roll out new and upgraded fiber networks in Charlotte, they’re pushing to get their service into the record number of new apartments under construction. Their pitch: Ultrafast Internet – with its lightning-fast show streaming and Web browsing – isn’t just optional for today’s renters.

“Five years ago, we were having to try to convince owners to include fiber infrastructure in their apartment,” said Adrian Cardwell, a general manager with AT&T’s Connected Communities team who oversees efforts to sign up multifamily operators.

Now it’s different: “To sell a fiber-enabled infrastructure for someone who’s building a new community, quite frankly, it’s an easy sale.”

AT&T announced last week that the SkyHouse apartment towers on North Church Street will have its GigaPower Internet service available for renters. With 336 units now open in one tower and another under construction, the upscale apartment towers will be more attractive to prospective tenants, said developer James Borders, CEO of Novare Group. Fiber Internet is typically about 100 times faster than current average Internet speeds.

“Our residents now have the advantage of ultrafast Internet. Having the most advanced technology available at our properties sets us apart,” said Borders. GigaPower starts at $70 a month for stand-alone Internet service.

[Related: In new Charlotte apartments, luxury is the rule]

A Time Warner Cable spokesman said that company’s upgraded Internet service, TWC Maxx, is also available at SkyHouse. Scott Pryzwansky said all Time Warner Internet customers in Charlotte will see speed upgrades as it makes its network faster.

AT&T is looking for other apartments in which to install its service – you can nominate your apartment online at, and they’ll get in touch with your property owner.

Google Fiber, which is still installing its network throughout Charlotte, plans to roll out an interactive map to show which apartment buildings have access. That’s already available in other Google Fiber cities, such as Kansas City and Austin.

And for apartment buildings that sign up for Google Fiber, the company offers banners, window decals and posters to put up around the building to lure prospective tenants.

[Related: A year later, Google Fiber makes headway on Charlotte network]

Millennials are the target demographic for many of the upscale apartments under construction, and ultrafast Internet is important to their daily lives. Streaming Netflix, Spotify and HBO, Skyping a long-distance boyfriend or girlfriend, playing online games, sending and receiving Snapchats (without eating up your whole cellular data plan) – all of these activities require high-speed Internet access, or they freeze and jerk around like back in the dark ages of dial-up.

The importance of fast service in homes is only expected to accelerate as devices from refrigerators to thermostats to light switches are hooked up to the Internet – requiring more capacity to carry all that data.

“People can see the seismic shift that’s happening in the next few years,” said Cardwell. “It’s an easier conversation to get people to have.”

For the Internet providers, the advantages of installing fiber networks in apartments are obvious. At SkyHouse, 672 units are now prospective customers for AT&T. That’s the equivalent of a midsize subdivision of single-family houses, without digging up miles of streets and front lawns to lay the fiber.

And with more than 12,300 apartments under construction in the Charlotte market and 13,500 more planned according to Real Data, the potential new customer base is big.

“Instantaneous connectivity that is ubiquitous and reliable is the new normal,” said Mary Ellen Player, operations manager for Google Fiber in Charlotte. The company hasn’t said when its fiber service will roll out in Charlotte, but in June, Charlotte officials said Google was likely 18 months away from serving its first customers.

Speaking at a real estate forecast breakfast last week (Google Fiber was one of the main sponsors), Player spelled out the two most important requirements when moving into a new apartment: toilet paper and the Internet.

Player told a roomful of apartment developers they face the prospect of renters passing their properties over if they don’t have the fastest possible connections.

“They will leave,” said Player. She pointed to a survey by Nielsen that showed high-speed Internet ranks as a more important amenity than a pool or a gym for apartment dwellers. “In the world of choice … people are going to exercise their right.”

It’s not just apartments that are signing up for ultrafast Internet to lure tenants. Parkway Properties, which owns the NASCAR Plaza building and Hearst Tower uptown, signed a deal last year to install Google Fiber in all of its buildings as the service expands.