AT&T Has To Walk Back Its Empty Bluff About Freezing Fiber Deployment Because Of Title II
from the please-whatever-you-do-don't-check-our-math dept
When the President last month voiced his surprising and clear support for reclassifying ISPs under Title II, AT&T engaged in some very AT&T-esque pouting, proclaiming that the company would be freezing expansion of its next-generation “Gigapower” fiber deployments:
“We can’t go out and invest that kind of money deploying fiber to 100 cities not knowing under what rules those investments will be governed…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,” added the CEO.”
Except, as I noted at the time, AT&T’s deployment promises were a bluff to begin with (what I like to call fiber to the press release). AT&T’s been bumping speeds for a few high-end developments in cities around the country where fiber was already in the ground, then pretending that the deployments are much larger than they actually are. The goal is to save face in the age of Google Fiber, and give the mostly-bogus impression that AT&T’s seriously competing. In reality, AT&T had again cut its fixed-line CAPEX by about $3 billion — three days before the President’s announcement — and it’s backing away from millions of DSL users it doesn’t want to upgrade.
This is nothing new to AT&T. The company has a very long and proud history of using broadband deployment as a carrot on a stick to get what it wants from regulators (whether that’s buying BellSouth, buying T-Mobile, buying DirecTV, or pushing for deregulation). AT&T’s numbers are frequently distorted or outright fabricated, and regulators historically don’t question them. This time, AT&T’s bluff didn’t work so well — because somebody in government decided to actually pay attention.
Jamillia Ferris, a former Justice Department antitrust lawyer aiding the FCC in reviewing AT&T’s DirecTV acquisition plans sent a letter to the FCC asking AT&T to detail the company’s fiber deployments. In a response (pdf) letter to the FCC, AT&T insists that the FCC had the company all wrong. You see, AT&T claims, the company wasn’t threatening to freeze ongoing fiber deployment, it was threatening to freeze fiber deployment beyond existing promises (though Stephenson’s statement very clearly doesn’t say that):
“The premise of the Commission’s November 14 Letter is incorrect. AT&T is not limiting our FTTP deployment to 2 million homes. To the contrary, AT&T still plans to complete the major initiative we announced in April to expand our ultra-fast GigaPower fiber network in 25 major metropolitan areas nationwide, including 21 new major metropolitan areas.”
The majority of the document is of course redacted, and you’d be hard pressed to get the government to conduct a proper audit of either AT&T’s real broadband deployment numbers or the billions in subsidies received over the years to help fund them. While it’s amusing to see regulators call AT&T’s bluff for once, the telco will surely return to using the same old phantom-broadband-carrot-on-a-stick routine a few months down the road.