AT&T withholds fibre roll-out in uncertainty about net-neutrality
Thu 13 Nov 2014
American telecommunications corporation AT&T has announced that it will cease investment in fibre-based high-speed internet infrastructure in 100 cities until the current Title II debate about net neutrality is resolved. Though anticipated by Cisco’s complaints about the consequences of Title II, the statement from AT&T’s CEO Randall Stephenson is the first notable response from an American internet provider.
“We can’t go out and invest that kind of money deploying fibre to 100 cities not knowing under what rules those investments will be governed,” said Stephenson at the Wells Fargo Securities analyst conference on Wednesday. “We think it is prudent to just pause and make sure we have line of sight and understanding as to what those rules would look like.”
However there is widespread cynicism that the Dallas-based tech giant is bluffing strategically, since its hardwire infrastructure roll-outs and upgrades have been observed to be responsive to potential competition rather than ‘aggressive’ and visionary, and subject to regular cutbacks and reversals.
Additionally the announcement comes only days after AT&T announced capital spending cuts for 2015. To an uncharitable observer, it could appear that the company is attempting to graft Title II correlation to already extant business caution in the hope of avoiding further industry regulation, and of increasing its leverage when attempting to compromise anti-trust laws. AT&T’s $48.5bn (£304,974bn) acquisition bid for direct broadcast satellite service provider DirecTV is currently under government review.
Fran Shammo, CFO of Verizon Communications Inc. made a typically milder protest to Title II, suggesting that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) might consider regulating ‘paid prioritisation’ – effectively putting net neutrality into the hands of government on an ad hoc, ongoing basis, and keeping the conversation on the matter open.
On Monday President Barack Obama released a statement in support of net neutrality, declaring that internet provision should be considered a ‘public utility’ in the same way as power and water. “No service should be stuck in a ‘slow lane’ because it does not pay a fee,” said the President. “That kind of gatekeeping would undermine the level playing field essential to the internet’s growth.”
Obama also recommended that the same principles be adopted for mobile ISPs.
On Tuesday two congressional Republicans wrote an open letter to FCC chairman Tom Wheeler protesting that President Obama’s Title II ambitions were outside of the FCC’s purview. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton and Senator John Thune (S.D.) said in the letter: “We believe this is beyond the scope of the FCC’s authority and would defy the plain reading of the statute.”