RALEIGH, N.C. — After years of hype and promises, cable TV finally has a legitimate competitor in the Capital City and some surrounding areas.

AT&T is lighting up its U-verse offering — plenty of TV channels, DVR recording and much more. Time Warner’s monopoly is over. High-speed Internet, too.

The U-verse arrival means competition – and that should lead to more competitive prices, improved customer service, more product offerings. The days of take-it-or-leave-it price increases are over. Choice is here.

Not every AT&T coverage area has uVerse yet. Customers must call or visit a local AT&T store or the uVerse Web site to find out if or when they can get access. Ma Bell is promising to expand coverage areas quickly, however. And nationwide, AT&T is aiming to have 1 million customers by year’s end. Among the markets getting service now is Charlotte.

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate Time Warner. I’ve been a loyal Time Warner Road Runner high-speed Internet customer from the day the service was first offered in my northeast Raleigh neighborhood. But my cable/TV/phone bill recently went up $60 a month.

With U-verse coming to town, Time Warner offered me a deal – a lower price on my package of services in return for a two-year contract. The big increase disappeared.

Time Warner obviously wants to lock me in as a customer. And in exchange for lower prices, I had to agree to an early termination fee of “up to $150,” my rep told me.

I have a few days to mull the offer. Now that U-verse is here, I can shop.

Thanks to legislation passed in the General Assembly, the cable TV franchise monopoly (not just Time Warner) across the state was ended. But remember in the past when phone company BTI and another venture in Charlotte promised to lay fiber and offer cable choice? Those efforts failed.

Digital subscriber line (DSL) service couldn’t deliver TV. Remember ISDN? Well, it still does nothing.

Satellite TV offered a bit of an option to cable, but dishes are a pain and bad weather made reception iffy.

Verizon has threatened to become a threat to cable in the Triangle with its own offering – but it remains just a threat. Verizon has yet to deploy its FiOS in Durham, where it owns the local phone franchise.

uVerse is the real deal in threatening Time Warner. Tons of channels. Nifty features such as multi-TV DVR recording capability. Wireless Net access.

“All that and a bag of chips,” said AT&T’s Bob Sellman, general manager for home solutions.

Choice. Isn’t it grand?