A decision by AT&T to put the brakes on a planned expansion of fiber optic service to 100 cities has drawn the attention of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The federal agency sent a letter to the country’s second-largest wireless carrier asking for details regarding comments made by Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson last week that the company would “pause” its investment in fiber optic service pending a decision by the FCC on how the Internet would be regulated in the future.
AT&T had announced in April that it planned to bring its fiber optic Internet service, with speeds of up to one gigabit per second, to more communities following Google’s foray into ultra-high-speed Internet service.
The company had already promised to expand its fiber optic service to 2 million DirectTV customers in exchange for FCC’s blessing on its plans to acquire DirecTV.
Stephenson made the comments during a conference call with investors, saying that AT&T would not be expanding its fiber service beyond what it had already agreed to with the government. “We can’t go out and just invest that kind of money deploying fiber to 100 cities other than these two million not knowing under what rules that investment will be governed,” Stephenson said. “And so we have to pause and we have to just put a stop on those kinds of investments that we are doing today.”
The CEO's statements prompted the FCC to send a letter on Friday, requesting that AT&T provide it with data on how many households had been included in its fiber optic expansion plans before limiting the deployments to its 2 million DirecTV commitments. The FCC has also requested all the documents related to the company’s decision to limit deployment to the DirecTV households. The agency has given AT&T until November 21 to respond to its request.
Stephenson’s comments followed calls by President Barack Obama that the FCC regulate Internet service as a type of public utility, similar to telephone companies, under Title II of Communications Act. The reclassification would open the door for regulators to keep a closer eye on how Internet service is paid for and provided to consumers and enterprises.
Obama made his pitch for reclassifying broadband service following allegations that broadband service providers such as AT&T and Comcast have been purposefully limiting service to certain content providers, such as Netflix, to force them to pay a higher fee for privileged access.
After Netflix agreed to pay Comcast an undisclosed amount earlier this year, fears erupted that Internet service providers would soon be able to play favorites among content providers, offering some higher speeds in exchange for hefty access fees.
The prospect of a radically altered Internet landscape resulted in a record number of public comments on the FCC Web site. The president’s statement last week is seen as a rebuke of his own FCC chairman, Tom Wheeler, a former lobbyist for the telecom industry, who had indicated he would permit Internet service providers to charge content sites higher rates for better service.
AT&T has attacked the president’s position on Net Neutrality. AT&T's Senior Executive VP of External and Legislative Affairs Jim Cicconi said regulating broadband as a utility “would be a mistake that will do tremendous harm to the Internet and to U.S. national interests.”
Posted: 2014-11-18 @ 9:54am PT
Net Neutrality is what we currently have -- ISPs are pushing the FCC to allow for "paid prioritization."
This is the equivalent of putting a toll booth on the Internet.
Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T are attempting to extort businesses for more money under the guise of creating "better service" for the consumers. This is a lie and everyone involved in the tech industry agrees on this.
Net Neutrality is a bipartisan issue. Republicans and Democrats should be on the same team on this. ISPs are attempting to destroy small businesses and consumer choice, that is 100% fact.
Common carrier status is good for this country. It's what every other first world nation has and it works splendidly. It forces ISPs to share lines (which our tax dollars already paid for) and opens up the market for multiple service providers.
Don't like Comcast? Change to another provider offering competitive speeds (since they use the same lines). This is good for the people, good for business.
For the love of god, stop listening to partisan talking heads on this and just do a little bit of research on the issue. You'll learn that Title II status for ISPs is something both parties should be agreeing on.
Posted: 2014-11-18 @ 9:47am PT
The fundamental problem is the big ISP's have an inherent conflict of interest between providing internet service and providing bundled television.
They should be forced to divest of one or the other. If they do so, I think it would be highly unlikely for the new companies providing only TV bundles to be advocating for no federal regulation over what are in practice local monopolies -- the "last mile" owned by the ISPs.
Posted: 2014-11-18 @ 8:19am PT
Exactly why the federal government should have nothing to do with the internet. The government screwed up the post office, the railroads, now healthcare, and wants to devastate the internet as well.
ENOUGH! We can make our own choices. We don't need less than 10 people at the FCC making choices instead of 315 million Americans.
Posted: 2014-11-18 @ 6:35am PT
AT&T is being totally rational. Net neutrality is a solution in search of a problem. Rather than invest, innovate, and compete, the Left uses lies, fear and deceit to gain control so that they can extort campaign donations and lobbying fees. We are much better off with the investors and the innovators in control. If they fail to provide a compelling product, they are at risk of being replaced by other investors and innovators. If the government is in control, they will protect the status quo.
Posted: 2014-11-17 @ 11:55am PT
AT&T was always a crooked company and milking ordinary citizens for profits. So what they say has nothing but self interest and on. Everyone should get out of AT&T and get some other service provider as a start.