SBC (SBC) says it will speed up its fiber overhaul plans and trim its projected costs.

The San Antonio-based local phone giant said Thursday that it will spend about $4 billion over three years to string fiber-optic cable deeper into communities so that it can offer advanced video services.

Originally, the big Bell said it would spend as much as $6 billion over five years on the fiber upgrade. SBC now forecasts a 2005 capital expenditure budget of close to $5.5 billion, roughly even with the high end of its 2004 spending projections.

SBC says much of the spending on the fiber effort will come from money it would normally have spent on its old-line network.

By the end of 2007, SBS says 17 million homes will be eligible for the faster network connections.

Like Bell peer

Verizon

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, SBC is looking at fiber to help it compete with cable companies on the so-called triple play of video, fast Internet and phone service. But unlike Verizon, SBC has chosen what it calls fiber to the node, or FTTN, which extends fiber to neighborhood phone hubs using the existing copper connections to the home, rather than running fiber all the way to the customer's house.

SBC says it can deliver multiple channels of TV and on-demand video as well as fast Net and phone service over its FTTN system. SBC is running trials of the video-over-the-Net service called Internet protocol TV, or IP TV, with the help of

Microsoft

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.

Earlier this week, SBC hired former TV programming executive Dan York to head its IP TV efforts.

Observers are split on the fiber strategy. Some call it a go-for-broke move to counter the cable companies. Other say it will sink the Bells into a financial quagmire as cost increases outstrip revenue gains.

SBC was up 24 cents Thursday to $26.21.