Commentary

FCC Questions AT&T About Threat To Delay Fiber Rollout

Net neutrality advocates have spent the better part of this year urging the Federal Communications Commission to reclassify broadband as a “telecommunications” service.

That push gained significant momentum this week, after President Barack Obama called on the agency to declare that broadband will be regulated as a utility -- a move that many observers think is necessary in order for the agency to pass the kinds of net neutrality regulations that would prohibit companies from creating paid fast lanes.

The FCC hasn't yet said what it intends to do, but Internet service providers are wasting no time making clear that they oppose reclassifying broadband.

On Wednesday, AT&T's chief went so far as to threaten to put the brakes on plans to expand its high-speed fiber network. "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," CEO Randall Stephenson said at an analyst conference, according to Reuters.

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Despite that statement, the company reportedly wasn't doing much to build out its fiber network prior to the President's endorsement of net neutrality. “In short,” BroadbandReports wrote on Wednesday, “AT&T's 'halting' a fiber expansion that barely existed in the first place, then pretending it's a massive deal in the hopes the government chickens out.”

Today, the FCC demanded that the telecom clarify its plans for fiber deployment.

The agency sent AT&T a letter requesting data about the current state of fiber deployment. The FCC also is asking how many homes AT&T originally planned to wire for fiber, and how that figure has changed.

Additionally, the FCC is asking whether AT&T's investment model “demonstrates that fiber deployment is now unprofitable.”

While there's no telling whether AT&T will backpedal, Stephenson's remarks earlier this week seemed more like bluster than a fully developed business strategy.

Either way, we should know soon. The FCC asked AT&T to respond by one week from today.

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