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AT&T backs off threat to halt its fiber rollout

Matt Hamblen | Dec. 2, 2014
AT&T now says it will continue its already-announced fiber optic network expansion to 100 cities, backtracking on comments by AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson after President Obama voiced support for net neutrality last month.

"The FCC out-finessed AT&T," said Gartner analyst Bill Menezes. "The 100-city GigaPower deployment has always been mostly vapor. The carrier never has provided a detailed timeline or set of criteria to substantiate the purported deployments."

Menezes noted that in its April 21 announcement of its GigaPower service, AT&T said it was "committed to or is exploring 25 metro areas for deployment." Menezes added that Stephenson was saying AT&T would have to "rethink something it never really committed to in the first place."

In addition to the billions it will spend on the DirecTV acquisition, Menezes noted that AT&T is spending billions more to buy new spectrum at an FCC auction. "There's no way it would back out of the auction and let those assets fall to Verizon and Dish Networks simply to register its concern about uncertainty over the potential effect of future net neutrality regulations on its use of that spectrum."

John Bergmayer, senior staff attorney at the civic interest group Public Knowledge, added, "If you claim something at the FCC, it needs to be verifiable, but so far there's no public information for people to be able to track whether AT&T would live up to its fiber commitment."

Bergmayer called the GigaPower announcement by AT&T a competitive response to Google Fiber. "Sure, AT&T has fiber investment plans, but nothing in particular, and there's no way to tell any particular household when you'll get service," he said.

Google, in a blog post on Monday, said it had kicked off signups for the first Google Fiber neighborhoods in Austin, Texas. Google first launched its 1Gbps service in the Kansas City area in 2012.

AT&T's GigaPower is intended to show there's some actual public benefit to the DirecTV acquisition beyond the 2 million more fiber connections already committed, Bergmayer said. "How can the FCC do anything with that? Is it 2.1 million? It's vague and the FCC has been looking to justify the public interest benefit."

Another public interest group, Free Press, reacted much the same way. "AT&T never had actual plans to deploy fiber to 100 additional communities, but only promised in a press release to initiate conversations with these municipalities about possibly deploying fiber in the future," said S. Derek Turner, research director at Free Press.


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