FCC Requests Info on AT&T’s Plans to “Pause” its Fiber Upgrade

by Matt Klassen on November 17, 2014

Last week AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson voiced his intent to stall his company’s planned fiber broadband network upgrades because of President Obama’s disturbing course for Net Neutrality rules, noting that it was “prudent to pause” when the future of network management, regulations, and maybe even the Internet itself is standing in the balance.

Such talk was nothing more than sabre-rattling, of course, AT&T’s own attempt at showing how Net Neutrality, no matter how beneficial it may be to consumers, will hamper innovation and investment in the Internet…a self-fulfilling prophecy if you will.

It seems Stephenson’s veiled threats, however, have raised the collective eyebrows of the Federal Communications Commission, who subsequently sent a letter to AT&T late last week requesting details about the company’s planned fiber rollout, how expansive the company’s plans are and presumably how it views the impact of Net Neutrality on such plans. Simply put, with AT&T all but threatening to take its ball and go home the FCC has called the company to account, and it’ll be interesting to see what AT&T has to say for itself.

The problem for AT&T with Stephenson rocking the boat, as it were, is not that it will upset the Net Neutrality applecart (in fact I’m sure that’s what Ma Bell wants), but instead that it would hamper AT&T’s ongoing acquisition of DirecTV, a proposal that itself currently sits before the FCC as well. While certainly two separate matters, AT&T would be foolish to think the FCC will take kindly to AT&T’s veiled threats about hampering the development of broadband Internet service, while offering their glowing support to the company’s acquisition attempt.

To that end, the FCC is now keenly interested in AT&T’s fiber network upgrade plans, including whether or not such a venture is profitable and how its attempted acquisition of DirecTV would factor into those plans.

“We are happy to respond to the questions posed by the FCC in its review of our merger with DirecTV,” AT&T said in an e-mailed statement. “As we made clear earlier this week, we remain committed to our DirecTV merger-related build-out plans.”

AT&T’s original plans were originally slated to include fiber network rollout in 100 cities next year, but Stephenson noted that he would be scaling back that rollout to the 2 million homes that the company committed to as part of its acquisition package for DirecTV. That means that AT&T will be delaying its network expansion, except for what it had already contractually agreed to, until it can gauge the broadband landscape following the implementation of Net Neutrality.

In my own efforts to assuage the concerns from broadband providers regarding Net Neutrality let me once again say to the industry: The only thing that will change is that you’ll no longer be able to bilk your customers through over-pricing, double paying, bait and switches, throttling, blocking or any other unscrupulous network management practices, and while that may anger your investors it will be nice that for once consumers may actually be getting the services they pay for instead of just hollow promises, shady deals, and poor customer service. So AT&T, quit stalling and rollout your fiber network, earn your money legitimately, and quit acting like a petulant child.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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