AT&T No Longer Fears Net Neutrality’s Impact on Investment

by Matt Klassen on May 21, 2015

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson does not believe the Federal Communications Commission’s redefinition of broadband service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act is the right path for the industry; he’s certainly not alone. In fact, because of the pending changes to how broadband service is classified, in November of last year Stephenson delivered an ominous message: such changes have forced his company to reassess their future development plans and the company’s fiber development project would be indefinitely suspended.

“It’s prudent to pause,” he said at an investor conference in November. “We want to make sure we have line of sight on this process and where these rules could land, and then re-evaluate.” It was a veiled threat the FCC took seriously.

While Stephenson’s tone regarding Net Neutrality has not changed in the interim, what has changed is his overwhelming confidence that the courts will strike down the FCC’s recently imposed regulations. In fact, in an interview with CNBC this week Stephenson said he was no longer worried about how Net Neutrality would impact investment, boldly declaring his company would be once again moving forward with its $18 billion fiber development plans because he feels it’s unlikely the FCC’s regulations will remain in place. Simply put, AT&T is confident that Net Neutrality is nothing to worry about, the only real question is whether such confidence is truly warranted.

It is rants like this that make me seriously question the veracity of the claims made by the broadband industry in the wake of the FCC’s redefinition of Internet service as a public utility. Having heard the arguments put forth by carriers one would think that this decision will destroy the industry as we know it, despite the fact that the FCC has publicly stated that it will take an investment-friendly “light handed” approach to imposing the regulations.

In fact, AT&T’s own senior executive VP Jim Cicconi blogged about the ominous uncertainty the FCC’s decision has brought to his industry. “Instead of a clear set of rules moving forward, with a broad set of agreement behind them, we once again face the uncertainty of litigation, and the very real potential of having to start over – again – in the future,” he wrote. Dark tidings indeed.

Today, however, AT&T’s tone is very different, almost to the point of shameless overconfidence. “We have seen the way the rules came out… and as we read those rules we do believe they are subject to modification by the courts,” Stephenson said in a recent interview. “So we’ve said we’re going to invest around $18 billion this year. That will allow us to deploy a wireless broadband solution to 13 million homes around the U.S.”

Of course if the FCC’s Net Neutrality regulations are really that flimsy and if AT&T is truly as confident as it is regarding the certainty of the courts overturning the more onerous parts of the FCC’s reclassification, what was all that crying about in the first place?

Truth be told, it’ll be interesting to see where Net Neutrality goes from here. There’s no question several tech and most telecom titans are firmly opposed to the regulations, but given that the courts offered the FCC this path in the first place I would think it would relatively ironclad. That said, AT&T sure is confident regarding the future of Net Neutrality, so much so it is banking $18 billion in investment money on its inevitable failure.

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

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