If the Federal Communications Commission reclassifies broadband Internet services as a utility, the matter will end up in court for the next two to three years, AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson said Wednesday at a Wells Fargo conference on tech, media and telecom. Given the uncertainty of the outcome, he added, AT&T is putting on hold its plans to extend high-speed fiber to 100 cities across the U.S.
"We are now starting infrastructure projects that we don't have any clarity or line of sight in terms of what rules those will be governed under," Stephenson told the conference audience. "That can have no effect other than to cause one to pause.
"We can't go out and just invest that kind of money, deploying fiber to 100 cities, not knowing under what rules this investment will be governed," he continued. "We think it prudent to just pause....We're in a pause moment right now on those kind of investments."
Another project to be put on hold would be AT&T's investments in in-flight, LTE connectivity for airline passengers, Stephenson said.
"It becomes unclear even how those services would be regulated," he said.
Obama: Reclassify Net Services
President Obama on Monday took a dramatic step into the Net neutrality debate by asking the FCC to treat consumer broadband services similar to a utility by reclassifying them under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. Under the plan he outlined, Internet service providers could not block consumer access to legal Web site content or services; could not deliberately slow down -- or "throttle" -- some customers' access in favor of other customers; could not offer prioritized "fast-lane" Internet services for a premium price; and would have to provide greater transparency on "last-mile" connection services.
The president's proposal immediately drew vehement criticism from Internet services companies, telecom industry groups and his conservative political opponents. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, for example, said the president's call for Net neutrality was "Obamacare for the Internet."
Following today's comments from AT&T's Stephenson, however, the pro-neutrality side of the debate has weighed in with its own criticisms. Several commenters on Ars Technica, for instance, compared the CEO's statements to a "hostage situation."
'More Certainty, Not Less'
We reached out to Evan Greer, campaign director of Fight for the Future, a Net neutrality advocate, to learn his reaction to Stephenson's latest comments.
"AT&T should be ashamed for trying to mislead the American public in such a blatant way," Greer said in an e-mail. "They know that everyone wants Net Neutrality and an open Internet, so they are resorting to misinformation and threats. Legal experts and tech companies have made a clear case that Title II reclassification will bolster broadband investment, and since Title II rules are the most legally sound, the President's position is actually introducing *more* certainty into the conversation, not less."
During its current consideration of proposed rule changes on Net neutrality, the FCC has received more than 4 million public comments on the issue, with a large proportion of those expressing support for Title II reclassification.
Another interesting aspect in the debate are the growing efforts by non-traditional ISPs to deliver faster Net services. Just this week, for example, Google announced that it will be bringing high-speed fiber connectivity to small businesses around Kansas City. Google, Facebook and SpaceX are all exploring new ways -- from balloons to drones to low-Earth-orbiting satellite arrays -- to provide Internet service to underserved populations around the world.
Posted: 2014-11-12 @ 7:07pm PT
Yeah right. I seriously doubt that AT&T is going to cost themselves money stalling an investment like this just to make a point about Net Neutrality when they already have Congress in their pocket anyway. What a joke!
Posted: 2014-11-12 @ 2:18pm PT
Send that bully CEO into retirement and his company into chapter 11. AT&T will not be missed.