The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and AT&T took turns applying pressure to each other last week in reaction to President Barak Obama's support of Title II classification (albeit with a withhold on rate regulation) as an engine toward net neutrality. The FCC may be squeezing tighter.
In reaction to President Obama's call for the FCC to classify Internet service provision as a utility, AT&T President and CEO Randall Stephenson told attendees at a Wells Fargo & Co. investors conference November 12 that his company would "pause" roll out of its 1-Gbps U-verse with GigaPower service, which it delivers via fiber to the home (FTTH) infrastructure (see "AT&T releases list of potential new 1-Gbps FTTH markets"). Stephenson said that the current regulatory climate was too uncertain, and the threat of Title II too much of a brake to investment, to continue the deployment for now.
With FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler a fan of net neutrality (although not necessarily Title II as the President called for it), the Commission quickly responded to AT&T's gambit. The carrier has promised to deploy high-speed broadband to an additional 2 million homes if the FCC approves its proposed acquisition of DirecTV (see "AT&T to buy DIRECTV for $48.5 billion"). Drawing a direct line between that promise and Stephenson's comments, Jamillia Ferris, a lawyer helping the FCC sort through the merger proposal, sent a letter to AT&T demanding a full explanation of the service provider's GigaPower roll out plans.
Ferris seeks a wealth of details:
- The current number of homes AT&T has connected with fiber, grouped by FTTH versus fiber to the node (FTTN) and geographic area
- How many additional homes outside of the acquisition-related 2 million homes it planned to connect with fiber before the current stoppage, how many of these would be connected via FTTH and FTTN, and their geographic areas
- How many homes it now plans to connect with fiber, including the 2 million associated with the merger promise, grouped by fiber-optic broadband access technology and geographic area
- Whether AT&T now believes deploying fiber is unprofitable, and whether that belief will hold for the 2 million homes promised as a result of the merger
- All documents relating to the decision to suspend GigaPower roll outs.
Ferris gave AT&T until November 21 to deliver its response. Reuters quoted an AT&T official as saying the carrier will be "happy to respond" to the FCC request.
At the very least, such information would allow the FCC to track whether AT&T keeps its 2 million homes promise related to the merger. It also provides the Commission with an avenue to lobby for further FTTH deployments versus FTTN. And, assuming the information AT&T provides reaches the public domain, it will reveal how much of AT&T's GigaPower roll out has involved deploying new fiber versus leveraging existing infrastructure.
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